There was a warning today that the non-religious should resist suggestions that they take advantage of ‘a one off chance to show that real secular state education works’ offered by the Government’s current free schools and academies programme and open schools explicitly for non-religious people.
The warning came from the Accord Coalition, which seeks the reform of faith schools, in response to a suggestion by humanist author and journalist, Francis Beckett.
Writing in the New Humanist today, Francis Becket has urged humanists to ‘seize the opportunity’ and ‘get to together’ to set up humanist schools where there would be no discrimination on the grounds of belief in pupil admissions or staff employment, but where they would ‘take God out of the classroom’.
Responding to the proposal, Chair of the Accord Coalition, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain said: "Rather than have humanists leap into the attempt at school grabbing, as some faith groups have done, it is far better to analyse what the needs of society are today and determine whether such schooling is a help or a hindrance. To my mind the answer is definitely the latter. For humanists to join in the school-grab would not just be a mistake, but also effectively offer an endorsement of what those faith groups are doing.
"All state schools should cater for those of all beliefs and none, and this will help ensure that children grow up interacting with those from different backgrounds in the local community. Although Mr Beckett suggests that humanist schools would not discriminate in admissions and employment, he still wants to create schools explicitly for the non-religious. It is important that the non-religious learn both about and from the religious, and humanist schools would only segregate our school system and undermine cohesion in society further.
"It should also be noted how well genuinely inclusive community schools work and that in reality, these schools are not too dissimilar to the kind of school that both Mr Beckett and a great many religious people want. Humanists should continue to campaign to reform of the education system that we have, rather than entrenching division further."
Jonathan Bartley, director of the thinktank Ekklesia, which is also a part of the Accord Coalition added: "The call for humanists to create schools where 'God is taken out of the classroom' is in many respects an inevitable reaction to church schools who routinely discriminate against humanists and others in their admissions policies.
"Churches would rightly be outraged if the two thirds of primary schools which are not faith-based, discriminated in their admissions against people of faith. Yet many actively defend policies for their own schools which discriminate against humanists and other non-religious people. Unless they reform and end their discrimination they may well begin to reap what they have sown."
The Accord Coalition was launched in 2008 to bring together religious and non religious organisations campaigning for an end to religious discrimination in school staffing and admissions.
It includes the British Humanist Association, the Christian think-tank Ekklesia, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, Muslim and Hindu groups, and members from all three of the largest parties in Parliament.