Britain is no longer a Christian country, says a new enquiry into the place of religion in society, according to a report in the Daily Telegraph. So, why not tell us something we don’t already know?
What is not clear to me is who exactly has commissioned the Commission on Religion and Belief in Public Life that has produced the report.
Equally mysterious is the question why they bothered, and what they were hoping to achieve. They make various recommendations, but it is hard to see how these can be enforced, or who is proposing to enforce them. The Commission has a website here.
The Telegraph tells us that quite a few people are furious with the report’s conclusions. These include Government ministers, important members of the Church of England, and even Keith Porteous Wood, the well-known secularist, who thinks it does not go far enough.
The report does not seem to have heard evidence from Catholics, apart from the diocese of Leeds and a solitary Justice and Peace group in Stafford, according to the appendix to the 100 pages plus report, accessible here.
What annoys me, is this sentence from the Telegraph report: “The report, by the Commission on Religion and Belief in Public Life, claims that faith schools are ‘socially divisive’ and says that the selection of children on the basis of their beliefs should be phased out.”
The report indeed has this to say:
4.11 Selection by religion segregates children not only according to religious heritage but also, frequently and in effect, by ethnicity and socio-economic background. This undermines equality of opportunity and incentivises parents to be insincere about their religious affliation and practice. Public opinion is divided but certainly many people in the UK, including many from a position of devout faith, are opposed to religious selection in pupil admissions, both in principle and because of the practical consequences. Bodies responsible for school admissions should take measures to reduce selection on grounds of religion in state-funded schools.
This leads it to recommend:
[That we] recognise the negative practical consequences of selection by religion in schools, and that most religious schools can further their aims without selecting on grounds of religion in their admissions and employment practices; require bodies responsible for school admissions and the employment of staff to take measures to reduce such selection.
This will appall those who have any connection to our Catholic schools. What strikes me is that seemingly without visiting any Catholic school, or hearing from any Catholic school, this self-appointed Commission has accused our schools of sectarianism, as if this were the self-evident result of religious selection. Well, I went to Catholic schools and I am not sectarian. I would love to meet a single product of our Catholic schools who is sectarian because of the education they received in a Catholic school.
If you are going to accuse our schools of fostering sectarianism, you really ought to produce hard evidence of it.