Members of a range of religious traditions - Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu and Muslim - have issued a joint public call to end religion-based discrimination on admissions and employment in Britain's schools.
The signatories, who come from nine different faith groups, point out that the ability of faith schools to exclude pupils and staff of the "wrong religion", as currently enshrined in law, is both religiously offensive and contrary to human rights.
However, after lobbying from interest groups, including the Church of England, this discrimination currently remains enshrined in the Equality Bill (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/9558) coming before parliament.
The call for change, which the authors stress is a deeply felt conviction rooted in their faith, comes in a letter published today in The Times newspaper.
It appears in association with the Accord Coalition (http://www.accordcoalition.org.uk/), which was launched in September 2008 to push for a new debate on faith schools - one based on practical reform rather than the pro- and anti- polarisation.
The signatories to the letter include an Anglican priest and ecumenical tutor, a Jewish Rabbi, clergy from the United Reformed and Methodist churches, a Quaker, a Unitarian, a Buddhist, a Hindu and a Muslim.
Faith and church school providers have argued that they should have a right to select on grounds of belief in relation to employment and admissions because of the religious character of their schools.
But critics say that discrimination goes against the faith values they proclaim, is unnecessary to promoting a distinctive ethos, has been shown to be needless in many such schools and ignores the needs and rights of the general public - given that these schools are overwhelmingly (and in some cases entirely) funded by the taxpayer.
Public opinion research has showed that the majority of the population oppose discrimination and religious segregation in schooling. Independent research, including recent studies from the Runnymede Trust and University of London colleges, has confirmed concerns about these issues.
But faith school providers are reluctant to address the issues, claiming that calls for reform of faith schools amount to an argument for abolition and arises from "secularist agitation".
However, Accord points out that its supporters are both religious and non-religious and its work for genuine community schooling is bipartisan. The coalition has attracted criticism from the National Secular Society as well as from faith-school providers.
The letter to the Times declares: "Our motivation is religious: we take seriously the command to love our neighbour as ourselves and believe that means we must not segregate our children from each other. Creating educational ghettos smacks of weak faith and is a poor recipe for social harmony."
The letter in full, and signatories, reads as follows:
As members of a nine religious traditions, we call on MPs to eradicate two forms of discrimination that breach human rights and are religiously offensive, yet are currently enshrined in the Equality Bill.
The first is the ability of state-funded faith schools to reject those deemed to belong to the “wrong religion”, even if they live right next to it, wish to attend and accept its character. We believe such schools should serve not only themselves but also the local community.
The second is the law that allows those same schools to reject teachers who are fully qualified for a post but who are not of the school’s denomination. At present, voluntary aided faith schools are free to insist that even the geography teacher practices the religion of the school. This creates a highly insular outlook.
Many faith schools maintain a religious ethos without this discrimination, particularly voluntary controlled schools and academies. We question what sort of faith requires other schools to discriminate against children and teachers.
Our motivation is religious: we take seriously the command to love our neighbour as ourselves and believe that means we must not segregate our children from each other. Creating educational ghettos smacks of weak faith and is a poor recipe for social harmony.
We urge MPs of all parties and beliefs to make sure that the Bill does not permit state-sanctioned discrimination to continue.
The Rev Jeremy Chadd (C of E)
The Rev Steve Dick (Unitarian)
The Rev Marie Dove (Methodist)
Symon Hill (Quaker)
Jay Lakhani (Hindu)
The Rev Iain Mcdonald (URC)
Manzoor Moghal (Muslim)
Brian Pearce (Buddhist)
Rabbi Jonathan Romain (Jewish)
Accord Coalition: http://www.accordcoalition.org.uk/