Time to End Religious Apartheid in Scotland – and England 278

In all the wringing of hands about the violence at the end of the Hibs/Rangers Scottish cup final, there is a reluctance to tackle the root of the question. The debate has in recent weeks been reinvigorated over the Scottish law banning sectarian songs and displays at football matches, with speculation that the Scottish Parliament will now have a majority for lifting it. Public mass displays of hate speech do not to me come under freedom of speech. My guide as usual is the philosopher John Stuart Mill, who stated that to argue that corn merchants are parasites who thrive on the misery of the poor is freedom of speech. To yell the same thing to an armed mob outside a corn merchant’s house at night is not. That seems a precise analogy to sectarian songs in football grounds and Mill – whose father was from Montrose – is right.

But sensible as the ban is, it does nothing to tackle the cause of sectarian hatred. The greatest cause is segregated education. It is difficult to hate people when you grow up amongst them, share your earliest friendships and experiences with them, and learn together. It is easy to hate people when you are taught from your most innocent youth that they are different, and are forcibly segregated from them by the state for all the time you spend outside the family environment in young childhood. They are the other, different, rivals, the enemy. Name-calling, stone throwing, hostile chanting, sectarian singing and your football banner and scarf all ensue in obvious and logical succession.

I find the fact that the state routinely segregates Catholic and Protestant children in school, as the norm in much of Scotland, deeply shocking. The lack of intellectual honesty in facing up to the open consequences is pathetic. It behoves me as someone whose family is Scots-Italian and Hibs supporting to say that the Catholic Church bears a major share of the blame. So do Scottish politicians, who are in large majority too scared of voter reaction to take a firm stand on the issue.

The Catholic/Protestant divide is particularly acute in Scotland, but England has precisely the same problem with faith schools. If you filter out the substantial degree of Islamophobia in many reports, it is still plain that there is a problem with “Islamic” schools which teach values which have no place in modern education. (I would argue they are also a deviation from Islam, but that is a different argument for another day). I recently highlighted the interview by Mark Wallis Simons about education at a Jewish Orthodox school in England where pro-Israel propaganda was such that the pupils would fight for Israel against Britain. Thanks to Tony Blair, the leader who believes God wanted him to start war in Iraq, England has actually seen a growth in state schools which are a strong feature of the neo-cons’ “Academy system”. This has led to state schools being run by all shades of religious nutter including creationists.

Finally I would add to this sorry mix my experience in Blackburn, where with the active connivance of a Labour council there were apparently normal state schools under local authority control, within a couple of hundred yards of each other, which were 99% Muslim or 99% non-Muslim.

The answer to this problem is not to cherry-pick which faith is acceptable and which faith is not. The answer is simple. It has been accepted for centuries that the state has the right and duty to prescribe and provide education for children. There must be no segregated religious education in the UK. Children should attend school in a mixed environment and there learn a broad educational curriculum in which shade of religious belief has no place. Outside of school the religious life of the family is no business of the state. The children’s education is no business of the religion.

Private schools are a further different question. Quite simply I would abolish them, irrespective of the faith question, as they entrench the networks of growing social inequality.

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278 thoughts on “Time to End Religious Apartheid in Scotland – and England

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  • Ben Monad

    No need for wasting a food source. Have you tried attracting them with a mound of cornmeal? After you fatten them up, saute with some garlic butter and toss with pasta and a toasted baguette. Ez Pz.

  • Philip Allan

    Excellent article. I couldn’t agree more. From my first week in Primary School (non-denominational) I had to walk past the local Catholic Primary on my way home. Without even knowing that I was a Protestant (I only knew I went to Church – not Church of Scotland, and School – not Non-Denom School, I soon found out that because my school blazer was navy blue, the ‘big boys’ (who must have been between 8 and 12 years old!!) wearing brown blazers, would jostle me, shove me through hedges, grab my schoolbag, school cap etc and throw them into gardens and on to roofs, calling me a ‘Proddy-Dog’. I got to think of them as the ‘bad boys’, and talking to other lads in my class at school, soon found out they were ‘Caffliks’.

    From such humble beginnings, sectarian hatred begins. It was only when I left Central Scotland (to Isle of Lewis) that I found myself living in communities where sectarian hatred virtually unheard-of. A return to Glasgow 25 years later, and my line-manager reignited the hatred. I’m now living in Inverness, and in a civilised society again (no sectarianism). Yes, we do have ‘Catholic’ schools here, but I’ve not come across bigotry or hatred – that seems a Central Belt phenomenon.

  • Tony M

    Agree absolutely Craig. Article is spot on. Tough nettle to grasp, but we need to go firmly in the opposite direction to Blairite ‘faith’schools’ lunacy. Separation and segregation of four and five year old, creates ‘difference’ in the first place and cements it through into young adulthood. Unnecessary duplication and expense in facilities, travel, staffing etc. result too. Scotland ought to be a firmly secular state, and the education the state provides should be and can be the best available. Any religion is an obstacle and hindrance to education, anti-scientific, superstitious, irrational nonsense, a positive menace constituting actual mental harm. Experiences are similar to Philip Alan above, but from the opposite perspective and a mixed background both non-practising parentage.

  • Becky Cohen

    I agree with Craig re faith schools. I don’t think they have any place in a modern, supposedly rational society at all. I mean, some of them won’t even teach anything about Charles Darwin. Moreover, if a child happens to be LGBT they often have a very hard time if they’re in a faith school. Can you, for instance, imagine a school of any one of the three patriarchal religious denominations, allowing a transgender girl to wear a dress to school? There is also the argument that parents who expect and force children to grow up in a religion they choose for them is an infringement of the human rights of that child and even tantamount to child abuse. If parents brainwashed their kids into being communists or Nazis then it’s a given that most of us would find this extremely sinister, but seemingly it’s considered ‘respectable’ to bring them up in an environment where they are taught that anyone who does not agree with the religion of their parents will roast in the fires of hell for eternity!

  • Elaine

    Totally agree.
    The fact that state schools are really CoS schools (especially primary schools) and a lot of teachers can be quite religious people adds to problem. And also HTs are allowed to interpret guidelines to decide how religious their school is and use frequently visiting ministers etc. to indoctrinate.
    However there is a campaign group against this, aiming to keep school and religion separare. I think most Scots support that.

  • Tony M

    At the catholic schools I attended, I can remember nothing even touching on religion ever taught formally, no religious instruction classes, it was effectively a completely secular education, this being in the early-70s- to mid-80s. In primary school, where I had the same teacher right through, from primary 1 to primary 7 – the still fondly remembered Miss O’Rourke, at the start of her teaching career as we were in our education, there were maybe a few catechisms on the bookshelves or side table, but in secondary school, not even that. There was no religious education or content whatsoever. Corporal punishment was frequently employed for general discipline with on occasion every single pupil in a class of thirty-plus pupils all getting the belt. There were first Friday masses, whatever they were or are, early in the morning at 9pm, I think at the beginning of each month but attendance was not mandatory or even encouraged or indeed mentioned. It meant for most not a long lie but a rather more leisurely start to the morning, school unofficially starting at 10pm. It contrasts with my father’s recollection of attending Holyrood School in Glasgow in the early-fifties: a roll-call was taken at mass (in Latin) on Sundays and non-attendees spent the Monday morning covering several miles walking around the school perimeter until lunchtime, and more often than not being thoroughly wet and miserable if not ill from the punishment. That was then though.

    I’m only now realising that that non-denominational school pupils probably got more religious instruction and indoctrination than we did at the catholic ones.

    I’ve not been commenting here much recently, to the relief of many, reason being dissatisfaction with the moderation and deleting of my comments sneakily arbitarily, a day or so after posting –what on the Guardian became known as retroactive moderation/censorship, in other words a subtle “fuck-off”. My undermining the BBC comment, on the bowels of Pacific Quay and the ongoing rat problem, I thought a masterpiece of carefully woven urban legends, truths, and a bit of harmless fun. Whilst the trolls and establishment finks egregiously run riot, spreading their poison unchecked, protected and coddled. Someting is not quite right. Were you really just an ambassador/FO johnny or an <I^ spook Craig?

  • Richard Buck

    I have a B.S. Social Sciences
    (1957) from Georgetown Univ.
    In retrospect, my one semester
    courses in Ethics an Logic seem
    paltry and my double major in
    the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas
    (required) as cumbersome. With
    the West’s recent embrace of
    pre-emptive warfare one wonders
    what our leadership has learned
    of the once valued moral teachings
    of our forebears, irrespective of
    their supposed religious beliefs.

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