Friday, April 14, 2006

Faith Schools March On, Secularism on the Run

Polly Toynbee in The Guardian on faith schools, secularism, "intelligent" design, trust schools, Labour and Tony the Baptist. Read it.
But how odd that in this heathen nation of empty pews, where churches' bare, ruined choirs are converted into luxury loft living, a Labour government - yes, a Labour government - is deliberately creating a huge expansion of faith schools. There is all the difference in the world between teaching children about religion and handing them over to be taught by the religious. Just when faith turns hot and dangerous, threatening life and limb again, the government responds by encouraging more of it and more religious segregation. If ever there was a time to set out the unequivocal value of a secular state, it must be now.

This is indeed a clash of civilisations, not between Islam and Christendom but between reason and superstition. The wake-up call came with a BBC/Mori poll showing that, even in this least churchgoing nation, science is on the run: 48% believe in evolution, against 39% who believe in creationism/"intelligent design". If even scientists aren't believed then here is fertile territory for any mad and dangerous theories to take hold.

But instead of standing up for reason, our government is handing education over to the world of faith. It's the same government that went to war in Iraq to install the likes of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani into positions of great power. The man George Bush and Tony Blair see as the best hope for promoting stability and "freedom" in Iraq has just issued a fatwa calling for the killing of all sodomites and lesbians. See "Q. What is the judgment for sodomy and lesbianism? A. Forbidden. Punished. The people involved should be killed in the worst, most severe way of killing." The exiled Iraqi gay campaigner Ali Hili reports that these orders are now being obeyed, with an upsurge in beatings and slaughter of gays in Iraq by religious cadres who have declared all unmarried men over 35 "under surveillance".

The Pope may not call for murder, but the Vatican is directly responsible for millions of Aids deaths by refusing to sanction condoms even in parts of Africa where half the population is infected with HIV, putting out deliberate lies that condoms are useless against the virus anyway. Yet here is the Labour government encouraging religions to take over as many schools as they can, promoting the humbug that values and morality only come with the "ethos" of faith.

Now the teachers' unions fear the faiths will make a grab for many more schools when the education bill puts them all up for potential takeover. Trust status will give sponsors power not just to run the governing body, but to devise their own curriculum. (So forget sex education). Every school that vanishes into the hands of the religions is gone for ever, exceedingly hard for a future government to get back. How can a Labour government be doing this?

It's because religious schools are so popular, the government says, and indeed they are. There may be few bums on seats in pews, but there are queues for the schools whose special "ethos" is called closet selection. God doesn't move in such very mysterious ways: research by the Institute for Research in Integrated Strategies is only the latest to find that C of E and Catholic schools take a lower proportion of free-school-meal children than the average for their catchment area. It means nearby schools have to take more, magnifying the imbalance as an unfair proportion of troubled children congregate in bog-standard schools without the magic "ethos".

Ask most Labour MPs and they abhor the devious abuse of religious schools and the segregation they cause. It's not "choice", since most parents would never choose faith schools if they were not the flag for assembling the better pupils locally. Baroness Morgan, until last year a close Blair ally as No 10's director of government relations, spoke out boldly against religious schools in the Lords. (Note how everyone leaving No 10 suddenly speaks their mind - and it is rarely the mind of their leader.) ICM polling shows that 64% of voters think "the government should not be funding faith schools of any kind" - a surprisingly strong position. So what on earth is a Labour government up to - and why don't Labour MPs refuse to let this happen?

Read full article.

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