Divided Communities

Opinion piece from East London Humanists. Published Newham Recorder 13.9.17

‘We need to live our lives not in a series of separated and segregated communities.’  So spoke Theresa May on 4 June, the day after the London Bridge terrorist outrage. Fine words, and a sentiment all decent people will share. They are part of May’s four point plan to tackle religious extremism. But will her words be matched by her deeds?

A big test will be the Government proposal, first made last November, which would increase religious segregation in schools by removing the current 50% cap on admissions to faith schools. The fact that schools have any power to discriminate on who they admit or employ on the grounds of belief makes them unique among state-funded institutions. It is a relic of a bygone era. Extending this privilege raises the prospect of even more youngsters growing up in separated communities at schools chosen according to their parents’ religion. It runs the risk of those children entering the adult world without having ever engaged with someone not sharing the religious beliefs taught by that school.

A broad range of figures have condemned this Government brainchild from across the political, religious and educational spectrum. They include Conservative ‘Father of the House’, Ken Clarke, MP and Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman. London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan, stated that ‘schools have an important role in bringing communities together..’ and that ‘the government should not be bringing forward measures that make integration less likely…’

The British Social Attitudes survey published earlier this month showed that for the first time more than half of the population of this country say they have no religion. This statistic has profound implications and should prompt a debate on the privileges which religions continue to enjoy, not least in the role they play in our state education system.

Anyone who wants to build a modern society with cohesive and integrated communities should join us in opposing the Government proposals, whatever their religion or belief.’

Paul Kaufman
Chair East London Humanists

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