For the sake of my blood pressure, I really shouldn’t listen to the Today programme. But more of that presently.

As the left blogosphere’s designated religion correspondent, a role graciously shared by the incomparable Red Maria, it would be remiss of me not to pass any comment on last week’s No Popery demonstration in London. But to tell you the truth, it looked to me like the damp squib of the season. This was, let’s recall, a mobilisation of various anti-religious organisations along with some militant gays, and to be honest, “anti-Catholics don’t like the Pope very much” is about as newsworthy as “Pope may not be secular liberal”.

But that’s not to say that there was nothing remarkable about it. In fact there were several entertaining eccentricities. Firstly, the demonstrators met up at the Natural History Museum to namecheck Darwin and pat themselves on the back about being, like, all scientific and shit. This seems to have been based on the idea that the Catholic Church is opposed to the Darwinian theory of evolution, which would come as a shock to the late Cardinal Newman as well as at least the last half-dozen popes. (Catholicism’s allegorical reading of scripture has never really had a problem with evolution; that’s Protestant biblical literalism you’re thinking of.) From there, they set out to Westminster Cathedral to try and have a row with the congregation, by such means as brandishing placards featuring Pope Benny’s face with a Hitler moustache drawn on it – that must have seemed absolutely hilarious at the OutRage! office, but was perhaps not the best way to win friends and influence people at Westminster Cathedral. And the final lap was a walk to the Italian embassy to proclaim solidarity with some two-men-and-a-dog outfit in Italy that’s been campaigning to get Berlusconi to unilaterally tear up the Lateran Treaty and annex Vatican City. And all I have to say about that is that if you don’t like the Pope that’s fair enough, but if you think Berlusconi would be an improvement then you need your head felt.

Notable too that despite sympathetic media coverage less than 200 people bothered to turn up; and that atheist icon Maryam Namazie was a no-show, although some Iranian bloke did stand in for her. This is ominous for the No Popery Coalition, because militant secularist demos usually rely heavily on the WCPI to make up the numbers, and while the Hekmatists are up for any opportunity to bash Islam, they really don’t care about Catholicism. One tentatively suggests that, if they want to bolster their numbers come September, they’ll have to block with the Democratic Unionist Party and the Orange Order, although that might be a profound culture shock for Terry Sanderson and Peter Tatchell. Incidentally, I do worry that the enormous respect that Peter has rightly accrued down the years is undermined a little by his insistence on hanging out with these strange people.

But no matter, these guys were not to be discouraged. Over the last couple of days they have been in action again over the Children, Schools and Families Bill – yet another rather silly piece of Orwellian legislation from New Labour – and have been boosted by the support of the Liberal Democrats. It appears that Mr Nicholas Clegg and Dr Death Evan Harris are making a pitch for the militant secularist vote, although I’m not certain that a couple of hundred retired Open University lecturers are much of a vote bank. The proximate cause of this is the question of what’s now known as Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) and how this is to be carried out in faith schools. But there’s more to this than meets the eye, and there are three aspects I want to explore – the legislative, the political and the educational. There are a few philosophical issues underlying it as well, but I’ll only be able to touch on these in passing – to go into them in depth would take unconscionably long.

Part the first:
New Labour, like most modern governments, produces far too much legislation and certainly far too much bad legislation. I was very taken by Jamie’s reference to the theory of Chinese Legalism, the idea that the government should legislate to improve the moral condition of its citizens. New Labour, combining as it does deracinated liberalism with a belief in the perfectibility of man, is especially addicted to this, and it’s resulted in a whole series of blockbuster laws that seek to get rid of every social ill you can think of. Harriet Harman’s current Equality Bill is a case in point – since the last (itself rather far-reaching) Equality Act came into force as recently as 2006, and was augmented by the Sexual Orientation Regulations 2007, it’s not immediately apparent why yet another substantial piece of equality legislation is so urgently required.

Forgive me for going a bit Ron Paul, but the legislative process would be enormously improved by applying the “better fewer but better” approach, passing fewer but shorter laws that are competently drafted and properly scrutinised. Nor would it hurt to realise that some things can’t be easily sorted out by legislative fiat. At the risk of getting ahead of myself, if schools have a problem with homophobic bullying (and we know they do) it would seem sensible to me for the DCSF to issue schools with guidelines setting out best practice, and to get feedback from schools on the extent of the problem. It’s an executive problem, not one that can be solved by legislation. (It’s worth noting that teenagers involved in homophobic assaults will have spent their entire education under New Labour and will have had the whole gamut of diversity and equality drummed into them. This indicates that we’re dealing with a cultural problem that needs a long-term perspective.)

A further issue is that of what may be termed bullshit autonomy. It’s a bit like Francis Canavan’s critique of liberal thinkers like Ronald Dworkin – that they relied on statist solutions to uphold the supreme good of the autonomy of the atomised individual – but, this being practical politics, it’s the Beavis and Butt-head version. I draw your attention to “Dave” Cameron promising more local decision-making in the NHS, even including workers’ co-operatives. But on electoral hot-button issues like cancer care or IVF, “Dave” says he’ll end the postcode lottery. It obviously not having occurred to “Dave” that localism implies a postcode lottery – because local decision-making means differing decisions being made on the allocation of limited resources. So the line is that we’ll get more localism except where it matters, and where it matters there will be increased uniformity.

Education is an especially obvious example. What with LMS, the gutting of local education authorities, parental choice, academies and all the other shiny initiatives of the last three decades, one would imagine that education would be all localism and diversity. And yet, this is one of the areas most notorious for pettifogging micromanagement from Whitehall. And since the far distant days of Ken Baker, the weapon of choice for enforcing bullshit autonomy has been the National Curriculum.

What’s wrong with the National Curriculum could take up an entire book, but in very general terms it’s both too broad and too narrow. What it should be doing is setting a standard for the study of various subjects. It should define what’s necessary as a minimum, and it should also indicate academic range – for instance, the study of history should involve some sort of variety of topics, instead of the scandalous situation where you can get a history qualification after studying nothing but Hitler. That’s the sort of thing it should do. In practice, it’s a dumping ground for every bit of harebrained social engineering a government wants to try its hand at, via citizenship classes and the like. At the same time, the NC is absurdly prescriptive. Take literacy. Any teacher worth her salt knows there are a whole lot of different ways of teaching literacy, appropriate to different kids, of which synthetic phonics is one. But, thanks to New Labour’s kowtowing to the Daily Mail, synthetic phonics is now compulsory. And now, on the grounds that parents are falling down on the job and the NC has to take up the slack, kids who are already suffering the Tony Blair Literacy Hour face being subjected to the Ed Balls Sex Hour.

Finally, however bad New Labour are on this ground, we can confidently expect Cameron and Gove to be ten times worse.

Part the second:
This is where it’s necessary to separate the substance from the spin. At 8.10 on Tuesday morning the Today programme carried a rather weird interview between John Humphrys and Ed Balls, on the subject of an amendment Balls had introduced to his own bill, which is ostensibly about protecting the religious character of faith schools. More on this below.

The interview was rendered even more weird in that it was preceded by an appearance from Rabbi Jonathan Romain, who was arguing in favour of one-size-fits-all statism and against any religious dispensation. This seemed an odd position for a rabbi to take, but then Reform Judaism is a strange beast.

There then followed the main event. Although the bill would also affect the more numerous Anglican schools (though many of these are faith schools in name only), not to mention Jewish, Muslim and Hindu schools, the entire conversation was about Catholic schools, and moreover between two men neither of whom had the faintest idea what Catholic doctrine actually was. (Can we please have Ed Stourton back?) Humphrys was hyper-aggressively demanding of Balls that Catholic schools should not be allowed to be influenced by, er, Catholicism; Balls was positively surreal, simultaneously posing as the defender of faith schools while reassuring Humphrys of his fidelity to secularist orthodoxy by affirming that he would be requiring Catholic schools to provide their pupils with information on how to access contraception and abortion.

The spin on this, too, has been wondrous to behold. Secularist groups (among which we can count the Liberal Democrats) have been spinning furiously that this is all about Teh Gays. You can’t blame them for taking this tack – look at the media success they had a few weeks back when the Pope made a speech that didn’t mention homosexuality once, and we ended up in a “hands off our lovely gays” condemnathon. (And, having tapped into primordial English anti-Catholicism, there was little need to bother with details such as what the guy actually said. Better to have well-meaning liberals getting really angry about what they knew he’d said.) Actually, while homosexuality isn’t irrelevant to all of this, discussion in Catholic fora has been much, much more concerned with abortion. As for the government, prior to the amendment it had been spinning that its religious critics were a bunch of lunatics opposed to any and all sex education (Mark Steel, for one, seems to have accepted this); after the amendment, their spin came back to bite them in the bum as BBC newsreaders were berating MPs for allowing the “opt-out”.

What of the Catholic spin? Well, there hasn’t been any. Archbishop Nichols, Bishop McMahon and the blessed Oona have been conspicuous by their vanishingly low profile. There was a very brief and neutrally worded press release from the CES about the amendment, but that was it. If one were to go by the radio silence from +Vinnie and +Malcolm, one might get the impression that the bishops endorsed what New Labour was up to. Not least because Balls is quoting them in support of his position, with nary a word of contradiction.

Let’s backpedal slightly here, because faith schools under New Labour are a classic example of bullshit autonomy. New Labour loves faith schools, because middle-class parents love faith schools. In the absence of a government with the balls to bring back grammars, the middle classes have identified faith schools as ersatz grammar schools and will go to extraordinary lengths of feigning religious belief so as to get the kids in there. (There is an analogue, though an inexact one, in the way south Dublin is full of middle-class atheists who join the Church of Ireland for schools admission purposes.) New Labour loves faith schools so much that a whole slew of government ministers have managed to get their own kids into exclusive faith schools. But New Labour also remains committed to a long menu of liberal policies that sit uneasily to say the least with actually existing religion. Hence Barry Sheerman’s comment that faith schools were fine as long as they didn’t take the faith bit too seriously. Ideally, New Labour would like the “faith” bit of faith schools to be just a bit of branding, a logo on the school gate. You can get away with that to some extent with the C of E, but the likes of Catholics, Muslims and Orthodox Jews are a tougher proposition.

So to the SRE proposals, and the Bill tightens considerably the leeway that schools had in designing their own SRE curricula. It would become illegal for any school not to offer SRE – even in primary schools, it is envisaged as being compulsory for the 8-11 age group, which is an odd move for a minister who’s said he’s concerned at how society is sexualising young children. From the age of fifteen, it will be illegal for parents to withdraw their children from SRE, no matter what reasonable concerns they may have about the content of what the school is offering. And this DCSF press release gives a flavour of what would specifically be expected from faith schools:

Q How could this work in practice in a faith school?

Let me answer that by way of providing an example. (This is Ed talkin’ here.)

St Thomas More is a mixed secondary school in Bedford. 60% of students are from a Catholic/Christian background with 40% from a range of ethnic minority groups, including Muslim. It has achieved Healthy Schools Status and has an Outstanding Award for cultural diversity.

St Thomas More delivers SRE through the pastoral programme in conjunction with the RE syllabus. It is led by pastoral tutors, all of whom are well prepared and confident to lead discussion with students across a wide range of SRE issues.

The school has developed a very successful balance of providing students with accurate information within the faith ethos of the school. For example, sex within marriage is promoted as the ideal of the Catholic faith, but the school explicitly recognises the reality that some young people may choose to be sexually active and, if that is the case, they need the knowledge and confidence to make an informed choice to protect themselves from pregnancy and STIs.

The school nurse provides students with clear accurate information about the full range of contraception and STIs and details of local services. Chlamydia screening is also offered to students in Years 11 to 13. Pregnancy options, including abortion, are also discussed in a non-judgemental way with the RE syllabus requiring students to understand the spectrum of pro- and anti-choice views on abortion. By combining the pastoral and RE teaching, the essential knowledge component of SRE is provided to students but within the context of relationships and the school’s values.

Terry Sanderson has been banging on about the rights of children to an “objective” sex education, as if you can eliminate values from such a discussion. In the spirit of Dude Hitchens’ proclamation in God Is Not Great that “my belief is not a belief”, Terry is arguing not for a value-free SRE curriculum, which is impossible in any case, but for one that reflects his values – with the rhetorical rider that “my values are not values, they’re objective”. Ed Balls, who’s much more important in this context than the voluble Mr Sanderson, actually comes closer to a value-free approach with his demand that schools be “non-judgemental”, in other words following the timeworn liberal view that radical personal autonomy is the supreme value.

But this is where liberalism’s insistence on the atomistic individual, at least when it devolves into statist solutions to reinforce personal autonomy, becomes deeply anti-pluralist. And this is where Balls and Sanderson are as one, because what they view as “enlightened”, “neutral” or “non-judgemental” is in fact a value statement, and one that many people don’t agree with. The real difference is that Balls thinks the demands of liberal statism and those of faith can be reconciled by the teacher adding the rider “here’s what we believe, but here are some other beliefs of absolutely equal value”, while Sanderson thinks the teacher should be legally prevented from adding the rider.

For example, let’s say your faith holds up lifelong monogamous marriage as an ideal, while recognising (and being sensitive to) the fact that actually existing society is more complex. Ed Balls wants to make it compulsory for you to say that cohabitation and civil partnerships are of equal value with marriage – so how do you express an opinion without being judgemental? The canonical example is abortion, where Mr Balls seems to think Catholic schools can instruct girls in how and where to obtain abortions – and in a “non-judgemental” manner – as long as they say “but we don’t do that”. One would have thought Archbishop Nichols might have explained to him that for Catholic educators to assist a pupil in obtaining an abortion is for them to be complicit in a grave sin, but then that would presume that a government minister would understand the concept of sin.

And what of the ostensible opt-out? Here is the text of the amendment:

Subsections (4) to (7) are not to be read as preventing the governing body or head teacher of a school within subsection (7B) from causing or allowing PSHE to be taught in a way that reflects the school’s religious character.

Note that this replaces the provision in the Education Act 1996 that allows schools to opt out of what they consider to be inappropriate material; and that this amendment is in tension with all the other bits of the Bill stipulating that SRE must be carried out according to the (extremely broad-brush) requirements of “equality” and “diversity”, and it really doesn’t add up to much. What it amounts to in practice is that you can rely on the teachings of Jesus Christ as long as they don’t conflict with the teachings of Ed Balls. If they do, so much the worse for Jesus.

Even if you don’t subscribe to Catholic moral teaching – and I’m certainly not advocating that Catholic doctrine become the law of the land – there are good reasons to be alarmed at these occasional outbreaks of authoritarian Jacobinism from New Labour. I was saying a little while ago about the danger of erecting liberal analogues to Section 28, and this is exactly the sort of thing I meant. Genuine pluralist liberals – and a lot of liberals are shockingly illiberal on these issues – should realise that, at least on the Niemöller principle, it’s often necessary to defend the liberties of people you don’t agree with – as Pope Benny says, tolerance is not the same as approval – and that religious liberties are very often the canary in the mine. Apart from the civil libertarian argument, there’s also the prudential argument outlined by +Rowan at General Synod, when he talked about Section 28 and the danger of enshrining legal norms on disputed moral issues. You may not be worried as long as the government is enforcing liberal nostrums on the education system, but once put that sort of system in place, and should a morally conservative government come to power, the liberals would soon know what end was up.

Part the third:
This post has got far too long already, but I’d just like to quite briefly state my scepticism about whether these brave new plans Mr Balls is putting forward will actually do much good. One might profit from asking why there were much lower teen pregnancy and STI rates forty or fifty years ago, when there was almost no sex education in schools. Not, I hasten to add, that I’m calling for a return to those days.

I mention this because the debate on the CSF Bill has coincided with discussion of the government’s Teen Pregnancy Strategy, which will certainly miss by quite some margin its target of halving teen pregnancies in ten years, even with a bit of statistical jiggery-pokery aimed at making the headline figures look better. Sceptics view the TPS as not much more than a teen abortion strategy. (As the latest figures confirm, teenage birthrates have got very low, but that’s largely thanks to a 50% abortion rate rather than a reduction in teenage pregnancy.)

Many of you will have seen Anna Richardson’s Sex Education Show (aka Britain’s Got Herpes) on Channel 4. This was quite interesting in that it was arguing, on the face of it, that the teen pregnancy and STI crises could best be dealt with by more sex education. But, considering that there’s more sex education now than there has ever been, it might be more pertinent to call for better sex education.

There’s also the aspect of societal pressures. There are enormously strong influences on kids from the mass media, the internet, porn and what have you, reinforced by peer pressure. By far the most powerful vehicle for sex education in Britain is Radio 1’s Sunday Surgery, which always does some brief throat-clearing on the age of consent, and occasionally has on Christian girls who wear purity rings as a sort of sideshow attraction, but in general has a relentless message of “if it feels good, there can’t be anything wrong with it”. Set against this, pupils getting an hour a week in school of what Ed Balls considers to be good sex education – regardless of whether it’s any good – is comparable to government advertising campaigns on alcohol abuse when set alongside the mammoth advertising budget of the drinks industry. It’s a drop in the ocean.

Finally (phew!), there’s a general cultural issue. Holland, as is well known, has extremely permissive laws and as much sex in the media as you could possibly want, but a much lower teen pregnancy rate than Britain. But Dutch society, especially outside of the Amsterdam metropolis, is characterised by tight family units and a level of community cohesion that seems very old-fashioned to Brits. I can’t see the problem being sorted this side of a serious change in the culture, something that no act of legislation can decree.

More thoughts on this from Archbishop Cranmer.

Rud eile: I was immensely tickled to see Cardinal O’Brien slapping down the odious Jim Murphy. More on which here; and Ruthie reports that someone is having trouble with his comments box.


  1. Phil said,

    February 25, 2010 at 6:48 pm

    Great post, I should say up-front. I enjoyed the trip.

    I do worry that the enormous respect that Peter has rightly accrued down the years is undermined a little by his insistence on hanging out with these strange people.

    This sounds awfully like concern-trollery, of a kind Tatchell is entirely inured to after the long and often strange political career he’s had. In fact I suspect he regards sentences beginning “I do worry” as an indicator that he’s still got it.

    Anglican schools (though many of these are faith schools in name only)

    That’s a bit like saying that Harp lager is beer in name only. It does what it does, it’s very successful in what it does, and aficionados will be happy to point out the many subtleties and complexities in what it does. I guess I’m talking here about the CofE itself more than Anglican faith schools, but I think the critique is similar.

    And I must just pick this out:

    St Thomas More is a mixed secondary school in Bedford. 60% of students are from a Catholic/Christian background with 40% from a range of ethnic minority groups, including Muslim.

    Excuse me? A Catholic school with a 40% non-Xtian intake? How did that happen? Have you seen those places’ entry requirements?

    But coming to the main point of the post, I’m starting to feel that you just don’t get liberalism. You associate Terry Sanderson with “the timeworn liberal view that radical personal autonomy is the supreme value” and I guess from ‘radical’ and ‘timeworn’ – but most of all from ‘Sanderson’ – that you’re critical of this view. But personal autonomy is surely foundational for liberalism. You’re suggesting that secular liberals (all secular liberals, or just the bad kind?) are “shockingly illiberal” on a range of religious views, practices, ways of life which they should, as liberals, be willing to accommodate. But when it comes down to it, it turns out that we’re talking not about stopping adults from holding views and living ways of life, but about preventing them from imposing those views and ways of life on children, and keeping those children from becoming aware of alternatives.

    Now, you can hold the view that Catholics should be allowed to restrict their kids’ education because it serves the glory of God, because it’s morally correct, because it fosters community cohesion, or even because it serves the greater good of the greater number. But I don’t see how you can hold that view as a liberal, or ask anyone to. If insisting that personal autonomy not be restricted is illiberal, then liberalism is shockingly illiberal. (This leads me to suspect that the first proposition is in fact not correct.)

    • splinteredsunrise said,

      February 25, 2010 at 9:31 pm

      There is something on liberalism in the works, which doubtless will prove that I don’t get liberalism as a theory – although the specialised meaning “liberalism” has acquired in Ireland is another matter. Or it may just prove that I’ve got a broad streak of Canavanism.

      Yes, there was a little mild concern-trolling of Peter, with tongue firmly in cheek I might add. But if you’re going off on a rant a bit of humour can help the old equilibrium, in a way that giving off about how useless the CES and Bishops’ Conference are doesn’t.

      Nor do I have any idea how a Catholic school ends up 40% non-Christian, unless it’s a demography thing, like those Anglican schools in Tower Hamlets and Newham with an almost entirely Muslim intake.

    • McGazz said,

      February 25, 2010 at 11:44 pm

      “Excuse me? A Catholic school with a 40% non-Xtian intake? How did that happen? Have you seen those places’ entry requirements?”

      Where I used to live, in inner-city Glasgow, that wasn’t uncommon – in fact, Pakistani parents preferred Catholic schools to non-denoms, largely because of a widespread belief that Catholic schools had better discipline (and because religious minorities tend to prefer seeing some religion practised, even if it isn’t their own, rather than none at all). Of course, that’s Scotland, where separate Catholic schools exist for historical/sectarian reasons, rather than the ‘selection by the back door’ role that faith schools have in England.

      • splinteredsunrise said,

        February 26, 2010 at 12:01 am

        It would also tie into my point about Dublin, and the popularity of Protestant schools (which are as close to non-denominational as you’ll get) with ex-Catholics. Which is why the C of I in south Dublin is full of people who don’t even believe in God.

        Meanwhile in rural areas of the south, Protestant schools – attended by genuine Protestants – are under serious threat from the removal of their enhanced subsidy. But that’s another story.

  2. Chris H said,

    February 25, 2010 at 6:53 pm

    A very nice post I have to say with some wry observations.

    Catholicism does seem to be taking the most flak probably because it is the least understood, safest target and the least likely to bite back.

  3. Phil said,

    February 25, 2010 at 6:53 pm


    What it amounts to in practice is that you can rely on the teachings of Jesus Christ as long as they don’t conflict with the teachings of Ed Balls. If they do, so much the worse for Jesus.

    A Grumpy Liberal Ex-Anglican Marxist writes: You know, I would be a lot more sympathetic to this argument – I mean, a lot more sympathetic – if someone could point me to anywhere that Jesus said a damn thing about either contraception or abortion. These vital issues of church doctrine really don’t seem to have got much attention from the big man while he was here, at least not compared with trivia like feeding the hungry and clothing the naked.

    • ejh said,

      February 26, 2010 at 1:29 pm

      while he was here

      Not that he was, mind

  4. Chris H said,

    February 25, 2010 at 7:07 pm

    Phil, if you would try and discover how the Catholic church has developed doctrine then maybe you might be more sympathetic? Too often in the UK we are conditioned to approach these issues from a liberal or evangelical point of view which doesn’t really allow us to see how orthodox Catholic teaching comes to the conclusions that they do.

    • andy newman said,

      February 25, 2010 at 10:05 pm

      Chris has a good point here.

      It is hard to understand Catholicism from an Anglican perspective, because anglicanism is a much more negotiated and contested institution.

      For example, within the Anglican community there are those who hold an essentially catholic position with regard to the God inspired nature of the institutions of the Chuirch: Bishops, vicars and deacons; and there are others (going back to Archbishop Cranmer) who essentialy hold that the church is a man made institution; there are Evangelicals who tilt to Rome, and anglo-catholics who are theologically liberal on everything except the nature of Church Christ.

      So biblical authority is essential for those anglicans who tilt towards protestantism, whereas church tradition is more important for those Anglo-catholics, who in the abstract are a bit gooey eyed about incense and the see of Rome, but in practice think that the Romans are wrong on almost everything.

      this mess becaomes most apparent over women bishops, where there are overlapping areas of contention not only over the ability of women to give ministry, but over the very nature of ministry and episcopal authority. So there are evangelicals who are opposed to women’s ministry on scriptural grounds, but who don’t care if there are women bishops, because they don’t really accept the authority of the bishops anyway. And there is an historical tradition of the church not dividing over secondary doctrinal issues (literally heresy, in the original meaning)

      Out of all this muddle, the Anglican church has an imperfect way of evolving to mirror the evolution of broader social attitudes in society at large.

      But this does make it hard to fathom the Roman way, where the authority of the Bishops is uncontested, and the church itself is of Divine provenance. Even for the Anglo-catholics who accept the God inspired nature of the structure of the Church, and who beleive that they should seek to avoid deviating from roman doctrine on the basis that this makes future reconciliation of the communions harder, still usually think that the actual rulings of the Pope have limited authority. For example, the majority of both Catholic clergy and laity within the CofE are liberal on questions of women ordination, and gay rights.

    • Phil said,

      February 26, 2010 at 12:04 am

      I realise that the written gospels aren’t the only source of Christian doctrine – indeed, I’m enough of an Anglican to think that a Christianity based only on the book would be a thin and debatable thing. But if you’re going to invoke quote the teachings of Jesus unquote, I do think you ought then to refer to something which Jesus appears to have taught. If Splinty had used another form of words – say, you can rely on the teachings of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church as long as they don’t conflict with the teachings of Her Majesty’s Government. – my knee wouldn’t so much have twitched. But then, that phrasing would have given Ed Balls a slightly fairer fight.

      • andy newman said,

        February 26, 2010 at 12:14 am

        well yes, not only a fair fight, but a fight we have fought and won in the past,

        starting with the Act for the Pardon of the Clergy (1531), in Restraint of Appeals (1533), for the Submission of the Clergy and Restraint of Appeals (1534), Restraining the Payment of Annates and Concerning the Election of Bishops (1534) and the Ecclesiastical Licenses Act (1534). All these culminated in the Act of Supremacy 1534.

        which includes the sentance: “The Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this Realm of England.”


      • splinteredsunrise said,

        February 26, 2010 at 1:17 am

        Not to mention the many penal acts that followed. I’ll allow that the phrasing was disadvantageous to Ed Balls but hey, it’s only Ed Balls we’re talking about. If you had an education secretary who gave the impression of knowing or caring about education, then I’d be more charitable.

      • Phil said,

        February 26, 2010 at 8:07 am

        Actually I’m not so interested in the Balls end, as it were (although if you are going to differentiate Ed Balls Thought from New Labour in general I’d be interested to know how). The teachings of the Church (any Church) aren’t identical to the teachings of JC, was my main point.

  5. Chris Williams said,

    February 25, 2010 at 8:46 pm

    Balls: “ethnic minority groups, including Muslim.” Balls.

  6. CharlieMcmenamin said,

    February 25, 2010 at 8:48 pm

    Oh, for goodness sake. You’re a very, very, clever and articulate person with his heart in the right place who seems to think that there is a defence for so much of the British and Irish educational system being controlled by churches and other religious groups. There really isn’t. Many of the points you make along the way in this posting are sound enough, but you ignore this basic ‘elephant in the room’. Whilst the elephant continues to sit there of coursethe problems it creates are going to come out in other ways….

    Bottom line: teenage girls who fall pregnant, should be dispassionately helped and advised about their options on whether or not to have the child. It’s their choice and they should be supported in that.

    I’ve met some impressive members of the Catholic church – even Catholic clergy – but never one who might feel able to offer such support and advice in a way I would consider truly dispassionate.

    Is this me showing what you call ‘ English anti-Catholicism?’? Well, perhaps. But there is also the small matter of the abortion stats for England and Wales. Of the 6862 abortions performed in 2008 on women whose normal place of residence wasn’t in E&W, 67% came from the Irish Republic and another 17% from N. Ireland.

    • andy newman said,

      February 25, 2010 at 9:48 pm

      but why should the state have more authority than the familly or the faith community over childrens’ education?

      This version of statist secularism grew up in specific circumstances:

      i) where religious authority was an ideological prop for temporal power, and inequality; and
      ii) in the out of date enlightenment construct of that human beings are autonomous rational actors moved by self-interest, rather than collective beings moved by empathy and who adopt collective forms of consciousness

      The reality is that people have loyalty or affinity to their faith communities, and wish to bring their children up with the same moral and ethical beliefs as they hold.

      • DC said,

        February 25, 2010 at 10:20 pm

        That’s a little too easy Andy-the state pays for the school. By accepting that money you are involving the state in your affairs.

        No religious entity in the UK could maintain a modern school system anywhere without state support, so just waving your hands and saying that its none of the state’s business won’t wash. If the state pays for it, its the state’s business.

      • chjh said,

        February 26, 2010 at 1:34 pm

        It’s also the case that compulsory education asserts the state’s greater authority over the children, and I’ve never come across a leftist who would abolish compulsory education.

      • ejh said,

        February 26, 2010 at 1:49 pm

        Are we including anarchists in that?

      • chjh said,

        February 26, 2010 at 5:17 pm

        ejh – OK, apart from anarchists.

  7. Nathaniel said,

    February 25, 2010 at 10:11 pm

    “Bullshit autonomy”, in this case, seems to be enjoyed by students in Catholic schools, particularly girls, if your advice is followed (or students of any faith school in which the faith teaches non-relativized sinfulness of abortion). There is a contradiction between living in a society with women’s autonomy increased with the right to legal, safe and accessible abortion and the autonomy of the faith school. The best that can be done in the context of the existence of faith schools is to add the rider that the Catholic Church considers abortion a grave sin – “we don’t do that” -, but it is up to the student whether she wishes to obey Church teaching or not.

    Of course, there can’t be a value-free sex education, but if one is less inclined to follow Catholic teaching after being presented with all the options, particularly in a way which seems to present them as equivalent except for the fact that one is Catholic teaching, then it’s just too bad for the Church (and possibly the person disinclined to follow the teaching, if the Church is right). Teachings regarding sex in the Church are rooted in morality and natural law and it is unfortunate if, those arguments having been found unconvincing, students are subjected to concern trolling about health risks of contraception and abortion (along with disturbing images of abortion, which are irrelevant, since you could make many people more hesitant about other forms of surgery with similar images). Possibly, to avoid the incurring of grave sin, a shabbos goy could stand at the door of the classroom and hand out sexual education resource centre pamphlets as student file out.

    An amusing contradiction that comes up in this post is that Splintered Sunrise is always keen to inform us on the robustness of religious reasoning and the prejudices of the religious that we must consider, but then claims this sort of initiative is overbearing. Religious arguments concerning sexuality are quite strong for a lot of people. They won’t be quashed by presenting other arguments. (Then again, I’ve spent much of my life around deeply religious and conservative people).

  8. DC said,

    February 25, 2010 at 10:13 pm

    I would say though that it was probably the absence of properly thought out sex education in the UK that contributed to the very unhealthy sexual culture that seems to have arisen-you can see this in Ireland now as well. And in the latter case teaching Catholic doctrine, for one, doesn’t seem to have done much good. So perhaps its time for a rethink all round.

    I know I’ll read like one of the liberal secularist bores when I write this, because the latter always use examples like this, but in places like the Netherlands where there is comprehensive sex education teenage pregnancies are much lower than in the UK. There are probably other, more important reasons for it, but its suggestive none the less.

    Even if I think you been a bit overcome by the smell of incense, I appreciate the contrarianism. I live in France-and they are debating a new law outlawing of the burqua. So every bloody time I turn on the telly there’s some zealot covered head to toe explaining how wonderful it is not be a temptation to any man while down the shops, surrounded by intellectuals and politicians telling her she’s a naughty girl for opressing herself, or something,and how offensive she is being to laicité. When that sort of Parisian all agree on something, watch out, somebody’s about to get it in le cul…

  9. CharlieMcMenamin said,

    February 25, 2010 at 11:24 pm

    #(reply to)5
    we don’t have a secular education system in Britain (or in Ireland): neither country is France.

    We have a system whereby large sums of taxpayers money go to fund educational provision run by minority faiths who are relatively free to determine the nature of moral and sex education in those schools. (I use the word ‘minority’ here to simply reflect the fact that few of us Brits actually practice any faith).

    This is wrong. It seriously pisses me off as a parent in an area where church schools out number non churches ones. I don’t want my children taught twaddle. If other people want their children taught twaddle they should pay for for it, not me.

    But this is me reacting in a direct, apolitical way. It’s not what I’d say after reflection. On refection I’m with the Accord Coalition and Rabbi Jonathan Romain Splinty doesn’t seem aware of their arguments.

  10. andy newman said,

    February 26, 2010 at 12:18 am

    “Which is why the C of I in south Dublin is full of people who don’t even believe in God.”

    in the clergy?

    • splinteredsunrise said,

      February 26, 2010 at 1:14 am

      I was thinking of the laity. The clergy are very very Low Church as a rule and definitely not as liberal as you get in the C of E. Also, the Church of Ireland Gazette is an odd little publication that goes completely off message at the slightest provocation.

  11. decent interval said,

    February 26, 2010 at 4:28 am

    “If the state pays for it, its the state’s business”
    “If other people want their children taught twaddle they should pay for for it, not me.”
    Another interesting fact about Catholics about which some contributors seem strangely ignorant is that many of them work, and some even pay taxes.

    • Phil said,

      February 26, 2010 at 8:11 am

      Gosh. And do they vote in elections, too? Because they can do that nowadays.

    • dc said,

      March 2, 2010 at 2:57 pm

      Catholics do indeed pay taxes-but they aren’t the only ones, are they?

  12. andy newman said,

    February 26, 2010 at 11:16 am

    For those who think that the faith communites should butt out of moral and ethical debates which are just the secualar state’ business, I am interested in their attitude to the Lutheran church in the former DDR.

    The church provided youth clubs venues for young people to explore disapproved of cultural activities (punk rock, for example, die Toten Hosen played at a church in East Berlin), and was generally the only counter-hegemonis organised force in the country.

    Would our secular friends have taken the view that “If the state pays for it, its the state’s business” in DDR??

  13. CharlieMcMenamin said,

    February 26, 2010 at 11:29 am

    No one said that religious communities should butt out of moral or ethical debates. Nor even that religious communities shouldn’t run schools, or youth clubs or indeed any other kind of public service.

    But if these services are genuinely public in the sense of receiving public money then it is not unreasonable for there to be a debate about the degree of autonomy any religious (or any other kind of) community has in spending it. Exactly what do you find objectionable in the fundamental aims of the Accord Coalition:

    “In a pluralist, multi-cultural society, the state should promote tolerance and recognition of different values and beliefs. Given the dangers of segregation and the importance of community cohesion we need schools that welcome all and are committed to non-discrimination. Schools should promote a culture of questioning, of knowledge, of respect and of exploration of values, where students develop their own identities and sense of place in the world. We believe all state-funded schools should:

    1. Operate admissions policies that take no account of pupils’ – or their parents’ – religion or beliefs.

    2. Operate recruitment and employment policies that do not discriminate on the grounds of religion or belief.

    3. Follow an objective, fair and balanced syllabus for education about religious and non-religious beliefs – whether determined by their local authority or by any future national syllabus or curriculum for RE.

    4. Be made accountable under a single inspection regime for RE, Personal, Social & Health Education (PSHE) and Citizenship.

    5. Provide their pupils with inclusive, inspiring and stimulating assemblies in place of compulsory acts of worship.”

    • andy newman said,

      February 26, 2010 at 1:29 pm

      I don’t find anything objectionable about it. It is not my objections that matter, but those of faith communities who want to bring up their children according to the articles of their faith.

      What you are doing is the same trick that was tried recently with the House f Lords debate on putting an amendment into the Equalities Bill to allow religious service at civil partnerships. Where the campaigners for the amendment teamed up with some miniscule faith groups Uunitarians (6000 in the UK), Quakers (20000) and Reform Synagogues (35 places of worship), so that the campaigners could claim that they had faith groups on their side.

      However the faith groups in question represent very little compared to the CofE, Mthodists, Romans, and Muslim faiths, who would be the ones really affected.

      Now again it is not a question of whether I feel that LGBT couples shoud be able t have a religious service – I think they should – but a question of finding accomodation with the faith groups about what they think.

      Incidently, I understand that the Reliious Society of Friends are contmplating civil disobedience over this, to themseves offer religious service for civil partnerships; which strikes me as a very sensible thing for them to do.

  14. Cian O'Connor said,

    February 26, 2010 at 12:16 pm

    If religious schools were only open to children of religious parents and were completely independent of the rest of the education system I’d have less of a problem with them, or this ruling. But they’re not.

    In some areas your kids have to go to a religious school, regardless of the parents religious views. This is clearly wrong, objectionable and why this sex education thing matters. And religious schools, even some of the CofE ones, have got pretty religious over the last ten years.

    In other areas (and I live in one) local religious schools basically mean your children have no access to any schools on the same side of the city (if you’re lucky), unless you’ve done the church thing for two years. That’s partly a function of the Orwellian “Parental Choice” legislation, but religious schools play a part here also.

  15. CharlieMcMenamin said,

    February 26, 2010 at 1:59 pm

    I’m sorry – I’m really not trying to have an argument for the sake of it here – but I simply cannot see how allowing “faith communities who want to bring up their children according to the articles of their faith” to do so can reasonably be interpreted as allowing them to use public funds to do so.

    What’s more, the terms in which you pose the problem have implications beyond sex education: I can imagine that those evangelical Academy sponsors who allegedly authorised the teaching of creationism in their schools in the NE might also claim to be helping to ‘…bring up children according to the articles of their faith’.

    This has got absolutely sod all to do with religious freedom – except in the sense the religious have got a stranglehold over the rest of us because they control so many schools. I wouldn’t even mind this if it was just a case of there being a general religious ‘ethos’ which permeates the schools in question – but when it comes to religion determining admissions, employment practices and even the content of particular lessons then a line in the sand surely has to be drawn if we’re talking about public money paying for all this.

    Let me make play a hypothetical game: in the States many major hospitals are run by charitable foundations associated with this or that religion. In Britain such a situation is certainly imaginable but the majority of funding would certainly come from the state. One can only really have so many hospitals in any given area, at least if inevitably limited public money is paying for them. So if a Catholic Hospital got the franchise in a given area would it mean it was OK for it not to perform abortions or provide contraceptive advice, despite having a public contract to provide the full range of health care? Ii think not.

  16. prianikoff said,

    February 26, 2010 at 4:12 pm

    Andy Newman:- “…why should the state have more authority than the familly or the faith community over childrens’ education?”
    Because the state provides most of the funding, even if the school is voluntary aided, controlled, or a community school.
    (90% of capital costs in the case of VA schools) If that were not the case, conditions in them would be truly awful.
    They wouldn’t be able to maintain the buildings, heat classrooms, pay for modern equipment or pay teachers a competitive salary.
    As in the 19th century, when many of them taught classes in the hundreds and had to use the monitorial system.

    Since then, the state has assumed this role the working class and poor.
    This was a good thing.
    Consequently, the state can reasonably assert its rights to enforce standards, inspect schools and kick clerical ass now and again.
    I don’t see this as authoritarian, just necessary (with obvious reservations due to the capitalist nature of the state).
    Particularly as the state and the local authorities are subject to democratic elections, whereas religious bodies and families are generally not.

    Public opinion polls suggest most people would agree.
    Nearly 75% of the population believe that state funded schools should be non discriminatory and teach an objective and balanced syllabus.
    Where there’s a conflict between state policy and religious beliefs, it can be dealt with under the provision that RE lessons can be conducted according to the religious beliefs prevailing within the school. But that should not mean allowing such beliefs are extended to other areas of the syllabus such as science or sex education.
    Allowing that to happen is an unwarranted concession to religious privileges in education.

    Jonathan Romain has thus got Balls pwned when he argues that:-
    “The drafting of the amendment is clear: the religious character of faith schools will trump all of the other principles by which PSHE should be taught, even if this means condoning homophobia or giving pupils inaccurate information. If Ed Balls agrees that this would be unacceptable then it is up to him to withdraw the amendment.”

  17. splinteredsunrise said,

    February 26, 2010 at 5:40 pm

    It’s striking that nobody’s picked up on what I think is perhaps the most important point, where I was referring to Rowan Williams’ speech at Synod. You’ll notice that the amendment specifies subsections 4 to 7. It does not mention subsection 8, the key point, which requires all head teachers to follow SRE guidelines set down by the Secretary of State.

    Now, if you’ve an SoS who’s smart and sensitive that may be a moot point. And if it’s a matter of Ed Balls telling Catholic schools they have to hand out abortion information, most feminists and leftists will be perfectly prepared to overlook any civil liberties implications. But let’s say you get a conservative SoS – and I’m talking about a real moral conservative, not a metrosexual liberal like Gove – then you’ve got the return of Section 28 by the back door.

    As Rowan was saying, it should be a basic point – even a basic liberal point – that governments should be wary about giving themselves powers they wouldn’t want a government of a different complexion to have. I think it speaks for itself, and I’m surprised it hasn’t seemed to occur to many people.

    • Cian O'Connor said,

      February 26, 2010 at 6:23 pm

      And if it’s a matter of Ed Balls telling Catholic schools they have to hand out abortion information, most feminists and leftists will be perfectly prepared to overlook any civil liberties implications.

      Because there are none. This is bollocks. If the teachers at the school don’t want to teach these things then they can find another job where they don’t have to. Teach, I dunno, Maths, English, French, Physics, Geography instead. Or join the private sector. And nobody’s forcing the churches to run these schools. If they think their faith is incompatible with the state education system, they they should withdraw from it. The reason they don’t want to do this is that it gives them a very valuable resource (control over schools) for virtually no money.

      And while having state schools policy set by the government is less than ideal, its better than having it set by the completely unrepresentative Catholic church (and please, I was brought up Catholic so spare me the lecture).

      • Cian O'Connor said,

        February 26, 2010 at 6:24 pm

        End should have been:
        having it set by the completely unrepresentative Catholic church is worse.

    • CharlieMcMenamin said,

      February 26, 2010 at 6:24 pm

      Er, yeah, governments have the power to change the contents of the National Curriculum and always did have, even before we had to use capital letters for those two words.

      & yes, having an extreme moral conservative as Education Secretary would be a Very Bad Thing. In fact having an extreme moral conservative determine sex education policy in public schools would be a Very Bad Thing whether they were a member of the government or not…oh, hang on, I think I’ve found a flaw in your argument in favour of the autonomy of publicly funded religious schools in this matter.

      I presume your – and Andy Newman’s – concern is to establish some area of pluralism, of a civic space not totally dominated by the forces of Big State. I’m with you in that endeavour. But, ahem, bigging up Big Church (or the Wee Frees or anyone else for that matter) rather than Big State isn’t the way to do it.

      • splinteredsunrise said,

        February 26, 2010 at 9:20 pm

        Well, my position is basically pluralist. It probably wouldn’t do much harm to elaborate on this, because so much of left discourse is based on a social contract model and a fairly uncritical attitude to Big State. And no, I don’t believe in the concept of res privata, and have a fairly strong instinctive reaction to anyone appealing to the state to enforce res privata. That’s why those Parisians give me headaches.

        And pluralism cuts both ways of course. If Dawkins wanted to open an atheist school based on the teachings of Spinoza and Russell, I’d say go right ahead.

        Incidentally, if you think the CES’s sex ed programme is characterised by extreme moral conservatism, you should read the Catholic Herald and get a load of what real conservatives have been saying about it.

      • andy newman said,

        February 26, 2010 at 10:02 pm

        In fact having an extreme moral conservative determine sex education policy in public schools would be a Very Bad Thing whether they were a member of the government or not…oh, hang on, I think I’ve found a flaw in your argument in favour of the autonomy of publicly funded religious schools in this matter.

        What you are doing here is setting up your own moral standpoint as self evidentrly correct, and the moral conservatve as self evidently wrong.

        While my moral views are probably the same as yours, this won’t do.

        the problem is that there are competing value systems, and the value systems that derive from faith communities are not optional for adherents to that faith, even if they may be elastic in the observance or otherwise.

        What would be a bad thing, would be someone of decided views imposing those views on a community that did not accept them. This would include both the case of Pope Benny telling secular liberals what to do, AND the case of peter tatchell telling Catholics what to do

    • Phil said,

      February 26, 2010 at 10:01 pm

      I think we could be forgiven for missing this bit – it’s a very brief reference to Rowan Williams’s speech at Synod, and one in which the phrase “subsection 8” doesn’t appear.

      Anyway, these are two quite distinct issues. Here are subsections 5 to 7 (subsection 4 basically says “kindly do the following”):

      (5) The first principle is that information presented in the course of
      providing PSHE should be accurate and balanced.

      (6) The second principle is that PSHE should be taught in a way that—
      (a) is appropriate to the ages of the pupils concerned and to their religious and cultural backgrounds, and also
      (b) reflects a reasonable range of religious, cultural and other perspectives.

      (7) The third principle is that PSHE should be taught in a way that—
      (a) endeavours to promote equality,
      (b) encourages acceptance of diversity, and
      (c) emphasises the importance of both rights and responsibilities.

      Of which you wrote:

      [the opt-out] is in tension with all the other bits of the Bill stipulating that SRE must be carried out according to the (extremely broad-brush) requirements of “equality” and “diversity” … What it amounts to in practice is that you can rely on the teachings of Jesus Christ as long as they don’t conflict with the teachings of Ed Balls

      Actually the stipulations that SRE must be carried out according to the (extremely broad-brush) requirements of “equality” and “diversity” are precisely what this is an opt-out from. What it amounts to in practice is that you’ve got to take the equality and diversity thing as far as your faith will allow, and no further. People who don’t want to give accurate and balanced sex education lessons, or don’t want to tell kids they ought to accept diversity, are now free not to do either of those things. In what sense is that a good thing?

      As far as subsection 8 (now renumbered 10) is concerned –

      In the exercise of their functions under this Part so far as relating to PSHE, a local authority, governing body or head teacher shall have regard to any guidance issued from time to time by the Secretary of State.

      I’ll agree that that’s nasty & could be dangerous. But in that case we’re not talking about secularism or liberalism or anti-Catholicism or any of those things. It’s just a lousy way to make law – any law on any subject.

      • andy newman said,

        February 26, 2010 at 10:16 pm

        But surely you cannot require someone who beleives that same gender sexual activity is a mortal sin offensive to God to teach that it is a value neutral choice?

        You cannot expect parents who strongly support the church’s stance against homosexual activity to send their children to lessons that will tell their kids that same gender sexual activity is “normal and harmless”, in the immortal words of Nick Clegg. Because those parents would genuinely believe that such a view is potentially harmful for their children.

        I think the opt out as proposed is a good ballance, that gives just enough fudge.

        It is like the marvellous Anglican position on gay clergy, which stiplates only that they “might expect to be asked” by their bishop whether they are obeying the church’s ruling in favour of celibacy. Note that ONLY the bishop may ask, and he of course might prefer to mind his own business. This is a brilliant muddle which allows the church to hold all positions simulataneoulsy, and to not allow any part of the church the excuse for schism.

        Similarly, the law being proposed makes it quite clear what is expected of schools, as a sort of moral obligation, while they can choose to either follow that moral obligation from the state, or what they believe is the moral obligation from their faith.

      • Mark P said,

        February 26, 2010 at 10:22 pm

        Andy, would you make the same allowances for racists as you do for homophobes? Or for people who are homophobes for reasons which don’t have to do with religious credulity?

      • Phil said,

        February 27, 2010 at 10:10 am

        You cannot expect parents who strongly support the church’s stance against homosexual activity to send their children to lessons that will tell their kids that same gender sexual activity is “normal and harmless”, in the immortal words of Nick Clegg.

        At the risk of turning into johng, this is really rather strange. I’m happy to affirm (or swear on the Bible) that same-gender sexual activity is “normal and harmless”, whether Nick Clegg said it or not. My concept of what it means to be a free person includes the freedom to pursue whatever sexual orientation you believe yourself to have, subject only to the overriding liberal caveat that nobody else is forced to join in. And neither you, Andy, nor anyone else posting on this thread has advanced any other idea of personal freedom. Certainly we’re all agreed (are we not?) that gay sex is not intrinsically evil/immoral/harmful/sinful. People are free to believe that sodomites are damned to Hell (just as they’re free to believe that the Pope is the Antichrist or that the CIA did 9/11) but bringing up children in that belief system, without enabling them to know that there are alternatives, is just wrong. It’s certainly not something the state should be endorsing.

      • CharlieMcMenamin said,

        February 27, 2010 at 10:23 am

        “.You cannot expect parents who strongly support the church’s stance against homosexual activity to send their children to lessons that will tell their kids that same gender sexual activity is “normal and harmless”…”

        No I don’t Andy. Every school I’ve ever come across has an opt out clause allowing parents to withdraw their kids from sex education lessons.

        But I am not neutral on these questions. I do believe homosexual activity to be normal and harmless (as I suspect you do as well) – and indeed the law of the land recognises it to be. So I’m still not sure why you think public money should be invested in telling kids otherwise.

        This is the point: it’s public money, not money voluntarily raised by this or that congregation to propagate their own moral view of the world.

  18. redbedhead said,

    February 26, 2010 at 5:43 pm

    Interesting stuff – Here, in Canada, we have what’s called the Separate School System in at least three provinces, though most prominently in Ontario. It’s a large system and was a historic concession to the French Catholic minorities after the English conquered the French colony of New France. It’s certainly not without its problems (only Christian minority faiths can petition to set up a separate school board – almost exclusively Catholic in practice) but it remains quite popular, certainly in Ontario. I know that, in Ontario, when you go to vote, you indicate whether you are a supporter of the public or separate school system and this determines which school board you vote for and where your property taxes are directed. As far as I’m aware anyone can send their child to a Catholic school (which is not actually controlled by the church) though you have to be a Catholic to work for the school – a source of some friction. There is a separate union for Catholic school teachers (in Ontario there are several teachers unions – OECTA for the Catholic teachers, OSSTF for public high school, ETFO for primary school, which incorporated the old OPSTF and the Federation of Women Teachers). The separate school system is subordinate to the constitution, including the Charter of Rights & Freedoms. There are also Catholic run hospitals – they don’t provide abortion services to my knowledge and there is sometime heated debate over their role and establishment.

    • ejh said,

      February 26, 2010 at 6:25 pm

      To work for the school, how Catholic do have you have to be?

      • redbedhead said,

        February 26, 2010 at 6:35 pm

        Hmmm…I’m not sure. I had a friend a number of years ago who worked for the Sep. School Board. I think she got a letter from a priest to say that she was active in her church community. But it’s all a bit fuzzy (too much unCatholic pot in highschool has damaged my memory). There is some kind of criteria – probably on their website.

      • CharlieMcMenamin said,

        February 26, 2010 at 6:38 pm

        Dunno about Canada ejh, but in England lots of non Catholics work in Catholic schools. They have to work within the guiding ethos of the school, which is not utterly unreasonable in itself (no different from being asked to at least not publicly take the piss out of the corporate mission statement of any employer you might work for).

        The real issue is whether non Catholics can get ‘sensitive’ jobs in Catholic schools. But sensitive I mean RE/HSE orientated teaching posts – and leadership positions. You can’t be a non Catholic Head or Deputy in a Catholic school in England – or so I’m told by my teacher friends. I’m not sure if the same is true of Anglican schools, but my default assumption is that it is, though it is probably phrased in a slightly more mealy-mouthed way.

        So whole swathes of the educational jobs ladder are closed to people of the wrong faith.

      • ejh said,

        February 26, 2010 at 6:59 pm

        That’s an interesting question – can Catholic schools overtly refuse higher-ranking posts to non-Catholics?

      • CharlieMcMenamin said,

        February 27, 2010 at 1:07 pm

        Your questions made me realise I needed practical evidence for my previous assumptions based on a glancing familiarity with the relevant policies.

        So I went to the TES jobs website and searched for headteacher vacancies at Anglican and Catholic schools .The j.d and person spec for the first Anglican primary school I found made no mention of a requirement for the candidate having a particular religion (but this may be becasue it was a VC school).

        On the other hand the first Catholic school I found at random had a headteacher person spec which included as ‘essential’ the requirement that the successful candidate be,

        “A practising Catholic in good standing with the Church who is able to demonstrate a sound understanding of the distinctive nature of a Catholic school and who is committed to Catholic education.”

    • ejh said,

      February 27, 2010 at 10:50 am

      And no, I don’t believe in the concept of res privata

      Why not, out of interest? (This might come up next time we have a discussion about socialists and ethics,.)

      • ejh said,

        February 27, 2010 at 10:51 am

        I, by the way, don’t believe in WordPress, since I have absolutely no capacity to get my comments in the right place.

      • splinteredsunrise said,

        February 27, 2010 at 12:53 pm

        It may well come up soon. There are a few things in the works I think you’ll find interesting.

  19. CharlieMcMenamin said,

    February 26, 2010 at 8:20 pm

    Inevitably, it’s complicated by the schools’ precise constitutional status (voluntary aided, voluntary controlled, foundation, Academies and so on).

    Some state funded church schools are directly the employers of staff, others use staff employed on a local authority contract. But even where the staff technically work for the Council, as in voluntary controlled schools, the governors can give attention to “that person’s ability and fitness to preserve and develop the religious character of the school” as a recruitment criteria for senior leadership positions and for ‘Reserved’ posts like RE Teacher. They almost always do.

    & in religious schools which directly employ their own staff they can simply specify they want someone to promote the religious character of the school. (Actually, they can do this for a wider range of posts than in VC schools, but often don’t because of recruitment problems)

    • ejh said,

      February 26, 2010 at 9:55 pm

      That’s not “overtly”, though, in the sense that I meant. Doesn’t mean I necessarily agree or disagree, I just wanted to know whether a Catholic school could actually say “the Head must be a Catholic”. Obviously, if they can’t, then the question of what they can do, legally, is an interesting one.

  20. andy newman said,

    February 26, 2010 at 9:55 pm


    Well, my position is basically pluralist. It probably wouldn’t do much harm to elaborate on this, because so much of left discourse is based on a social contract model and a fairly uncritical attitude to Big State. And no, I don’t believe in the concept of res privata

    my view is also not based upon individualism, but rather on a sort of “corporatism”.

    In England, we had a fairly uniform political,civil and religious development around Anglicanism as a state church, peppered with some protestant non-conformism; that provided a fairly homogenus moral and cultural climate.

    that has been significantly changed by mass immigration starting 150 + years ago with the catholic Irish, being followed by Eastern European Jews, and now Sikhs and Muslims.

    And these great religions are bound up with cultural baggae, different attitudes to moral questions, contract law, etc, etc; and people often feels as much identity with their faith community as they do to civil society.

    So we need to negotiate a way forward with that, to allow people a choice, which means they are not polarised between having to choose between their rights and their religion.

    Divorce in a Sharia Court or a Jewish Beth Din is a good case in point. someone’s right to a civil divorce means little if they find that divorce not recognised by their community, and cannot remarry within their own faith.

    Dr Rowan Williams is very astute on this, he argues that what is needed are parallel structures where people can make informed choices; and if the religious institutions (courts ansd schools) are included within the state system, then they can be supervised, based upon a mutual compromise, so that the state can ensure minimum standards, and ensure that the religious institutions provide safeguards for the weak.

    For example, the fact that a Beth Din divorce is enforceable in English law has advantages for Jewish women, who only need one divorce, instead of two. In the case of a messy and contested divorce, then havinfg to go through the process twice will favour the more powerful party, and a judgement in a civil familly court that is morally unenforceable in her own community is of little value.

    Choice also promotes convergence. the state funding for state faith schools provides enormous pressure on them to not be particularly out of step with mainstream moral norms.

    Incidently, the focus on Roman catholics is a bit odd in this debate, given that the most conservative moral attitudes in Britan will be found in the (often UKIP voting) evangelical communities

  21. CharlieMcMenamin said,

    February 27, 2010 at 11:20 am

    I have no problem with the State having a dialogue with, and adjusting its various rules to fit, a whole variety of what you call ‘corporatist’ identities – though I get very, very wary of governments, like New Labour, who only ever seem to recognise faith/i> communities’ and no other. This seems to me to basically ignore the fact that Britain is increasing a country of very little faith in any meaningful sense.

    There are all sorts of situations where provision of state funded services is best done on the basis of tailored services aimed at specific groups ( Jewish or Asian womens’ refuges for example; or culturally specific care homes for old people and so on).

    I don’t see schools as falling into such a category at all: they are inevitably, especially at secondary level, about serving – or refusing to serve, in the case of selective schools – the whole population simply due to the pressures of economy of scale in any given area.

    But even where public services are sensibly best delivered on what you call a ‘corporatist’ basis that doesn’t mean the state can simply hand over the money and disappear quietly from view. The state has a responsibility to ensure standards of service are of an equivalent – not necessarily identical – level in such ‘niche” services as in generalised ones. So it is always interested in the quality and content of what is actually provided with the money it hands over.

    & yes, it is tricky drawing these lines about where the state should intervene sometimes, especially where cultural sensitivities are involved. But such lines do need to be drawn if the interests of the individual service user – not the ‘corporate group’ – are to be respected and defended : this can mean sometimes, deeply held convictions must be faced down. & that is exactly how I see the question of sex education in publicly funded schools.

    The reason we’re focusing on the Catholic Church here is that we’re talking about education. The Evangelical Sects run very very fewschools. .

    • ejh said,

      February 27, 2010 at 11:22 am

      WordPress – venial or mortal sin?

      • splinteredsunrise said,

        February 27, 2010 at 1:02 pm

        It has its redeeming qualities, so I’d say venial.

        I get where you’re coming from, Charlie, it’s a question really of whether services of an equivalent standard is the same thing as services that are culturally uniform. I don’t think you would agree with imposed uniformity any more than I do. And 70% of faith schools in England are C of E – Scotland and Ireland being different for historical reasons.

        You also get in these arguments a mildly annoying elision between “the state” and “the secular state”, sometimes framed as if only non-believers pay taxes. My position I think differs somewhat from Andy’s, but there is an important aspect there that the state has to provide (or fund provision of) services for a diverse and complicated community. You could of course go for the French one-size-fits-all approach, but I’m not sure how well that works even in France.

  22. CharlieMcMenamin said,

    February 27, 2010 at 5:51 pm

    It’s true that 68% of all religious state funded schools in England are CofE (another 30% are Catholic), but that’s because the CofE run around a quarter of all state funded primary schools.

    . If you only look at the secondary sector – where issues around sex education might be expected to be of rather more importance – there are 334 Catholic schools (about 10% of all state secondaries) and only 194 CofE ones (about 6%). Apparently there are no (or no longer?) Methodist state secondary schools, 32 run by ‘other Christian demonimations’, 9 Jewish ones, 5 Muslim ones, a Sikh one amd one ‘Other’ religious secondary school

    (I got all this information from a dossier of information on the Accord website.

    It’s that ‘Other’ religious secondary school that intrigues me: I’m fantasising that a West Country Wicca community of New Age Travellers have somehow infiltrated the education system and even now loads of bored teenagers are building mini-Wicker Men for their RE homework…

    • Phil said,

      February 27, 2010 at 9:04 pm

      It’s that ‘Other’ religious secondary school that intrigues me

      M3 T00, but for different reasons. Our local primary’s newsletter recently featured the news that a parent had volunteered to develop a module on Humanism to fit into their RE programme (which is basically six months per major world religion, until either SATS get in the way or they run out of religions). My heart didn’t beat faster. I mean, I know you can do weddings and funerals their way, but apart from that what does Humanism amount to, as a religion? How many tanks does the… the, er… well, exactly, they haven’t even got a leader! Bah, humbug.

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