The former head of the Anglican Communion has joined Richard Dawkins in attacking a policy that would allow the Catholic Church to open new schools.
Dr Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, co-signed a letter to the Daily Telegraph saying it was “difficult to bring to mind a more divisive policy, or more deleterious to social cohesion” than removing an admissions cap that prevents new faith schools from selecting more than half of their intake from their own religion.
The cap effectively prevents the Catholic Church from opening new schools because, once they reach the 50 per cent limit, they would have to turn away students because of their Catholic faith – something that would violate canon law.
However, the letter implies that children do not really have any religion, saying that removing the cap would allow schools to “label children at the start of their lives with certain beliefs and then divide them up on that basis.”
Other signatories to the letter include Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of Humanists UK, Rabia Mirza, Director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy, and Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston.
In their 2017 general election manifesto, the Conservative Party pledged to remove the cap, calling it “unfair and ineffective” and acknowledged that it prevented the Catholic Church from opening new schools.
The manifesto reiterated a pledge that Prime Minister Theresa May had made shortly after taking office the previous year.
In December 2016, the Diocese of East Anglia said it was ready to open eight new Catholic schools once the cap was lifted, citing a desperate shortage of school places for Catholic children.
In November 2017, the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales launched a petition calling on the government to keep its promise. “By forcing Catholic schools to turn away Catholic school children on the basis of their faith, the very principle of a Catholic parent’s right to choose a Catholic education is under threat,” the petition said.
In January this year, Damian Hinds was appointed Education Secretary, raising hopes that the government would honour its promise. Hinds was educated at a Catholic grammar school and has previously called for the government to lift the cap.