If you want to encourage Faith, it’s important that you keep faith with the idea of ensuring that the established Churches are prevented from controlling State Education.
It’s a simple proposition, really. Should the Churches get to determine what is taught in State schools? The answer is also straightforward; No – they should not. And yet in the UK and Ireland, the established Churches retain significant influence over how schools are run, what is taught and who does the teaching.
Don’t get me wrong – I fully support the idea of Faith Schools. I think some of these do a very good academic job whilst staying true to their core religious values. I know some people who teach in these schools and am certain that they provide a decent grounding for the young people under their instruction. But I also believe that not so much as one penny from the taxpayer should go their way as it is plainly inappropriate for the State to fund Faith schools. In the same way, it is important that the State also keeps its nose out of Faith Schools and I object to the way in which the pernicious State seeks to control Church Schools. It has to be a two way street. No Church interference in State schools and no State interference in Church Schools.
If we look to the United States, a Nation that is considered much more religious than the UK, we can see the clear benefit of separation between Church and School. In the US 83% of people consider themselves Christian, compared to a sinking 70% in the UK. The Founders were clear that in order to maintain religious liberty and freedom of religious choice, Churches and Schools must be kept apart. I’m with the 4th US President James Madison who shrewdly observed that “the [religious] devotion of the people has been manifestly increased by the total separation of the church from the state.” This situation still prevails and shows that people can be trusted to find Faith without it having to be dictated on the daily curriculum.
In Northern Ireland, all schools run by the Roman Catholic Church, the Free Presbyterian Church and any other Church should have any funding they receive from the State removed. If Churches here want to run schools, that’s great, but let them pay for it. It is quite outrageous to demand that the taxpayer hands over hundreds of £££millions to fund their institutions. Why do they take an arrogant attitude that is both wholly and indeed holy unreasonable? Where is the moral imperative that justifies a claim to all the cash needed to preserve their schools and their ethos? If they want to keep this, let them pay for it from their own funds.
State schools should be what they say on the can. They exist care of the taxpayer and their mission should be to provide a balanced and excellent education to all who attend. Should Religion be part of that? Of course! To appreciate the works of Shakespeare, to marvel at the wonders of the Universe, to understand the human condition, a sense of religious faith is an asset and State schools should ensure students are exposed to a wide range of Religious Faiths – so they can make their own mind up. I’m all for the Churches going into Religious classes in State schools and putting forward their views, their traditions, their values. But that’s as far as it goes. I don’t believe that Morning Assemblies with prayers and hymns are relevant in 2012 and far too often these are simply banal exercises in going through the motions. It is possible to envisage circumstances where a School Assembly could potentially benefit from a Christian teaching but that is different to saying that this is the norm or a requirement.
CK Chesteron observed that “A coziness between church and state is good for the state and bad for the church.” He’s right.
Over the last 70 years, Churches and State Schools have become far too cozy with the Churches sitting back with their collection plates held out accepting the filthy lucre dispensed from Government. They would do better to reclaim their independence by separation from the State. If they don’t, they haven’t really got a prayer.