The Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland has said he wants to see sectarianism stamped out in Scotland.
The Rt Rev Bill Hewitt today told a group of schoolchildren from West Lothian that the country needs to become more tolerant and inclusive or society as a whole will suffer.
Drawing on his recent trip to Belfast, the Presbyterian leader remarked on how a young man was brutally murdered after an 'Old Firm' (Celtic v Rangers) football match, because of bigoted factions in the local area.
Youngsters from seven schools in Armadale met with the Kirk Moderator on Wednesday 17 June 2009, at the denomination’s headquarters in George Street, Edinburgh. They discussed how faith prejudices divide communities.
All had been involved with an anti-sectarianism project which aims to tackle the problem of divisions among young people.
Mr Hewitt urged them to put their differences aside and said he believed that the pupils, from non-denominational and Roman Catholic schools, had much more in common than some might imagine.
The Moderator added: “The Church of Scotland supports any effort to stamp out sectarianism. Communities are coming closer together but there is still some way to go."
He continued: “Young people have a very important role to play if we are to achieve a vision of a more tolerant and inclusive Scotland”.
A report to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 2002 said that the Kirk must “tackle the demon in society”.
The issue of sectarianism and religiously-linked bigotry in Scottish society is one that has been keenly debated over the years.
There is a general acknowledgment of progress in some areas, but there is much more to be done in others.
The Catholic composer James Macmillan, fuelled a heated debate about the topic when he suggested that anti-Catholic prejudice was still strong and that the churches were not doing enough to combat it.
At the time, the Church of Scotland was not happy at the comments, saying that society was moving on.
However, the latest remarks by the Moderator indicate that the Kirk still recognises sectarianism as a live and important issue demanding a positive stand, especially alongside the young who are often at the 'cutting edge'.