Wednesday 4 September 2013

Secularists' petition against religious observance

                  Members of the Scottish Secular Society (Popular Front) on a school visit

One of the bewildering factors of modern Scottish public life is the succession of letters from various people claiming to be chairmen (and it's inevitably chairmen) of this or that Secular Society in the Scottish press.

I think there are four main groups on the go at the moment: the Edinburgh Secular Society, the Scottish Secular Society, Secular Scotland and the National Secular Society. (If I've left anyone out, I apologize.) Anyway, their current campaign is to get religious worship out of schools and they've sent a petition to the Scottish Parliament to do this. (My comments below are about the position of non-denominational schools. My position on Catholic schools is quite simple: if you send your child to a Catholic school, you should expect them to engage in Catholic practice. Full stop.)

I've posted before on this in connection with a related attempt aimed at Edinburgh Council. The current petition takes the initially more plausible tack of arguing for an 'opt-in' rather than an 'opt-out':

Lodged by parent Mark Gordon and Secular Scotland, the petition calls for the Scottish Government to change the law so that religious observance, such as attending a church service or religious assembly, becomes an opt-in choice rather than the current opt-out basis.
(From The Scotsman here.)

OK. Sounds fair enough: more choice. What's wrong with that? Well, schools run on the basis that children work in large groups: if you don't do that, you start facing difficult choices about resources and viability. If S1 all go to the local Church of Scotland for a session, fine. If Johnny goes to the Church, whilst David goes to the Synagogue, whilst Ewan goes to the Quaker Meeting House etc etc, it all gets fiddly and the school will probably stop doing it because it's too much hassle. Moreover, most (all?) events at school are done on the basis that in the judgment of the teachers concerned they're a positive contribution to a child's development. Accepting the teachers' professional judgment is part of the educational covenant you enter into with the school:  whilst there may be occasions for an opt out, the rule should be that what teacher thinks goes.

So really, this boils down to an attempt to make religious observance more difficult to run in schools with the clear hope that they'll gradually drop it. Opposition to the petition is based on the view that such observance is a positive contribution to a child's education and, whilst opt out should be allowed, non-participation shouldn't be encouraged.

Putting aside, for the moment, the exclusive truth claims of the Catholic Church, mainstream religions are a way of seeking truth, beauty and goodness in life. They are not the only way but, historically and culturally, they are the main way. If the secularist groups had a positive suggestion to make about the content of such a 'time for reflection' (and, yes, that's the description that the 'narrow confines of tolerance' (as Neil Barbour of the Edinburgh Secular Society describes it in a letter to The Scotsman today) of the Church of Scotland suggest for religious observance (in that Church's evidence to Parliament, (PDF here)), then it might be worth listening to. But instead, their only contribution is the attempt to impoverish: to remove rather than to debate.

On a final related point, 'secularists' often claim that they are simply about ensuring a level playing field in public life rather than having any animus against religions. Really? How about this from the Scottish Secular Society's website comment on the Catholic Church's opposition to the petition:

Catholicism can be argued to be the most greedy of that power. Simple steps such as translating the Bible into a form accessible to all have resulted in bloodshed and upheaval, and the history of the Catholic Church is drenched in the blood of innocents.

Thankfully in modernity the Church no longer has the ability to persecute those who deny their dogma. Their power, along with their followers, is on the wane, and they know it. This is the root of the opposition. They fear they are in terminal decline, and so all change, no matter how minor, is met with hysteria and fear. The sad irony is that secularism has no wish to end faith, no position on faith at all. Faith is of value to millions on the world, millions in the UK, and it will continue to be so in the future. We simply ask for faith to be a private matter, for the end to privilege for religion, and for parity of faith and non-faith in the public arena. That is a huge challenge for an institution which has evolved to be as much about the worship of power and influence as it is about the worship of God.

So we have no position on faith at all, but Catholics' faith is drenched in the blood of innocents. (But we still have no position on faith at all.)

It's almost enough to make you adopt 'Jime's Iron Rule' (from the blog Subversive Thinking )

In previous posts, I've formulated what I've called "Jime's Iron Law", which is a purely empirical finding according to which hard-core atheists and "skeptics" are demostrably stupid, irrational, illogical, structurally impaired to rational thinking, that is, their cognitive functions don't work properly specially regarding (but not limited to) spiritual or religious matters.

Hardcore atheists and sceptics whose feelings are hurt at this characterization should take it up with Jime. Me? I of course have 'no position on atheism at all'.


  1. Good morning. Interesting article, but let me point out a few errors you made. I shall start by introducing myself, I am Caroline Lynch, the Chair of the Scottish Secular Society, and I am NOT a man. The SSS is the same organisation as Secular Scotland, we simply changed name as we formalised into a society, which happened after the petition was submitted. Understandable confusion.

    The Edinburgh Secular Society is affiliated with the National Secular Society, a London based and run society, and neither is anything to so with us.

    Our petition, the one you discuss, aims to keep RO on an opt in basis. We recognise that it is worthwhile for some people, and we are happy for them to have it, but we think that it should not be forced on anyone. While there is an opt out currently, parents are not told about it, and sometimes prevented from using it. When they do the treatment their kids get amounts to punishment, and as a good Christian I would hope you would not approve of that.

    For your information, we have members of many faiths and beliefs systems who helped to write this petition and the additional evidence we submitted, and who accept that we do not have a covert agenda to remove religion. Secularism in fact is protective of religion, as our highest principle is that of human rights and democracy; all should be able to follow their faith as they choose, providing the do not impinge on other's rights.

    We also seek to improve RO provision through discussion, as the current practise is widely variable. We have everything from good practise as outlined in the RORG review of 2004, to hymns and prayers, to creationists using RO as an opportunity to tell children their schools are lying to them and cannot be trusted. Any parent would and should be concerned about such dubious and irresponsible activities.

    Finally, our view of secularism is inclusive and protective of religion, but our view is not the only view of secularism. Most people will be familiar with laïcité, the French model of secularism which can be quite prohibitive of any public expression of faith, and sometimes amounts to religious persecution. This is not the model to which we aspire, we seek freedom for all who do no harm. In fact, our model of secularism is a view I think Jesus himself would have approved of.

    We welcome all views and faiths to come and talk to us, join us, and help shape a fair, inclusive and secular Scotland. Join us at and judge for yourself.

  2. "OK. Sounds fair enough: more choice. What's wrong with that? Well, schools run on the basis that children work in large groups: if you don't do that, you start facing difficult choices about resources and viability."

    A large group does not have to be the entire school, which is why schools are split into classes. The Scottish Secular Society (of which Secular Scotland is the Facebook manifestation) is proposing that two groups be formed during the time devoted to religious observance. One group would have RO, just as before. The other would have some kind of eductional activity. Two groups should not to too hard to arrange.

    "If S1 all go to the local Church of Scotland for a session, fine. If Johnny goes to the Church, whilst David goes to the Synagogue, whilst Ewan goes to the Quaker Meeting House etc etc, it all gets fiddly and the school will probably stop doing it because it's too much hassle."

    The Scottish Secular Society are not proposing that schools send pupils to various outside places of worship during RO, so this scenario is irrelevant.

    1. Robert, fair enough on the 'Johnny goes there...'etc. It was hyperbolic.

      The substance of the point remains, however. If you encourage 'conscientious objection' to lesson content (which is the effect -and I'd argue aim of the Secular Scotland proposal) you'd make the provision for 'time for reflection' more difficult.

      As the present situation exists, there are in effect two groups already -it's just that the opt out group is very small. I'd be happy to endorse any campaign you'd make to ensure that the opt out group is properly provided for (I saw one of your speakers on Scotland Tonight (possibly Caroline?) talking about children being made to 'sharpen pencils until their fingers blistered') but that's different from what in fact you are proposing, the effect of which would be to undermine the provision of 'time for reflection' and to encourage children (simply by inertia) to avoid a valuable educational activity.

      I'l ask the same question I asked Caroline: why not campaign directly for a proper content for 'time for reflection' and proper provision for any opt outs? (The answer as far as I can see is simply that you wish to reduce the number of children in 'time for reflection' and to make it more likely that schools will drop it as an activity.)

    2. Our ideas about what would constitute proper content in an all-inclusive 'time for reflection' might be very different. We would not accept prayers, hymn-singing or talks which present God, original sin and salvation through Christ as facts, as we do not regard such activities as educational or inclusive of children with no religious beliefs. That is not to say that Christianity or any other religious tradition could not be referenced within an all-inclusive reflection time. A reading of the parable of the Good Samaritan, for example, might be a suitable illustration of the value of charity. The story of the woman taken in adultery could similarly be used to make a moral point which is universally appreciable. No-one needs to believe in any God or gods to benefit from texts like these, which deal with moral rather than metaphysical concepts, and it makes no difference what their source is. I would also, however, want to see a range of sources used and not just Christian or Biblical ones, to avoid suggesting that a single belief tradition has all the answers or occupies some supreme position in a hierarchy of truthfulness and wisdom.

      We are certainly not trying to undermine religious observance by creating practical difficulties, as we have sufficient trust in the talents of teachers and heads to believe them capable of organising two alternatives without over-straining their resourcefulness. If we succeed in removing the problems caused by the current opt-out system, we will have undermined, rather than strengthened, the case for removing religious observance altogether. The only way in which our campaign might lead to the total removal of RO from a school would be if the system we propose resulted in no pupils being opted in for it. Do you believe that RO is held in such little regard by parents that this might be a likely event?

    3. So, two parts to your response:

      1) A positive proposal for what 'time for reflection' might involve (and what it shouldn't involve);

      2) A restatement of the proposed change to 'opt in'.

      I'll leave 1) aside for now because that wasn't the subject of my post. I accept that, with a changing religious climate in Scotland, the content of a 'time for reflection' may need to be revisited from time to time. If you were campaigning on that, then we could have a discussion. But you're not. (And that's a real pity.)

      On 2):

      a) There is an existing provision for two alternatives -so we both 'trust' their resourcefulness. Or rather, Secular Scotland doesn't because one of the complaints you're making (per Caroline) is that the current alternative 'amounts to punishment'. Given that you don't think you can trust teachers at the moment, why do you think we can trust them in the future?) The existence of two alternatives isn't the point at issue.

      b) The only question is whether children should opt in or opt out. You still haven't explained why 'opt in' should be adopted here when the normal situation in education is either 'absolutely no choice' or 'opt out but as an exception'. Why should children be facilitated in avoiding a normal part of education (rather than simply put up with)? (And the only reasonable answer to this is that you don't think that a 'time for reflection' (of any sort that you might argue for) is a good thing.)

      c) 'The only way in which our campaign might lead to the total removal of RO from a school would be if the system we propose resulted in no pupils being opted in for it.' No. In all circumstances, it would be easier to avoid 'time for reflection'. (No alternative is always easier than two alternatives.) In circumstances where large numbers of children didn't opt in, it would become increasingly simpler to avoid 'time for reflection' rather than to try to carry it on.

      d) 'Is RO held in little regard by parents?' Probably. It's much easier to make a case for familiar, straightforward subjects than it is for anything that involves travelling further up Maslow's hierarchy of needs. That's why we need education systems to keep pushing back against people's concentration on the purely utilitarian. But my main point here would be that of inertia: it's much easier for a parent not to opt in than to opt in. It's much easier for a school not to communicate a possibility than to communicate a possibility. Because I think some sort of spiritual engagement is a good thing, I would regret children being deprived of it. I suspect -and nothing I've seen from either you or Caroline changes my view on this- Secular Scotland doesn't think spiritual engagement is a good thing.

      Again, I ask you, why not campaign directly for a proper content for 'time for reflection' and proper provision for any opt outs?

    4. To answer your four points:

      a) The examples of negative treatment of opt-out pupils to which we are objecting have nothing to do with the abilities of teachers. Because there is a pressure on parents not to opt out, and because so many parents aren't even aware of that right, so few children are opted out that the use of their time during RO is not seen as a priority, and it is not considered worth organising anything. We propose that schools should have an obligation to provide an educational activity for those not opted in to RO, and we expect that there will be sufficient numbers of children to justify the additional effort.

      b) I do not accept that RO, when it involves worship or the preaching of religious belief as truth, is part of education at all, let alone part of "the normal situation in education". Parents, rightly, have no choice over whether their children learn maths, because learning maths is indisputibly educative and useful, and those who don't learn maths will be placed at a social disadvantage. This is not the case with RO, which very often involves presumptions about beliefs we don't all share. It does not follow that I don't think time for reflection is a good thing. I think it could be a very good thing indeed if children feel involved with it, but acts of Christian worship are unlikely to be involving to non-Christian children, and are more likely to provoke resentment than interest. Part of the problem is that RO is in some places being rebranded as 'time for reflection' but remaining (at least partly) RO. A change of name won't fool anyone.

      c) The Education (Scotland) Act 1980 continues to impose a statutory duty on local authorities to provide
      religious observance in Scottish schools, so whether or not "no alternative is always easier than two alternatives" (or, for that matter, easier than one alternative), schools have no choice in the matter.

      d) I agree that education should not be purely utilitarian, which is why I support the role schools play in the development of artistic expression. What is meant by 'spiritual development', however, might differ from person to person. What we ARE sure about at the Secular Scotland campaign is that making children say prayers and sing hymns to a god in which they have no belief is not spiritual development. The precious time of those non-religious children could be better spent developing their awareness of the wide real world in which they live: for example, hearing a foreign aid worker talk about their experience, or finding out what it's like to live with a disability. A headteacher at my secondary school read from all kinds of thought-provoking texts, ranging from a paragraph on the nature of loneliness in the memoirs of a round-the world yachtswoman to a semi-comic essay on how to make a new friend. And, yes, the Bible put in appearances too, but it was used carefully, to point to insights we can all appreciate, and not to present the supernatural tenets of Christianity as truth. If time for relection was as carefully organised and all-inclusive in all schools, we wouldn't feel the need for a campaign, but it isn't, and that's why we find the current presumptuous enrolment of pupils in specifically Christian activities unacceptable.

      Your point about inertia and opting in being easier than not opting in is not pertinent to our campaign. We propose that ALL parents should be asked make an active choice between RO and the alternative, by ticking options on a form.
      (Coninued in next posting.)

    5. To answer your final question, this is our first campaign and we aimed for the least problematic outcome, which is to give all parents an active choice. Campaigning for what WE regard as proper content in time for reflection would involve trying to persuade the parliament to tell schools to cut out the worship, prayers, hymns etc. which are accurately described as RO, which the law states they must provide, and which many religious parents expect them to offer. Is that what you would prefer us to attempt? Proper provision for non-attenders of RO is part of what we are requesting, but that can be best justified and planned if we also create an arrangement which reveals accurately how many parents would really prefer the secular alternative. The current default arrangement means that in some schools there is only one opt-outed child when, judging by census results on religious identity, there should be many more. You wrote yourself that children learn best in groups. We want to create those groups for those children for whom RO in its current form is not appropriate.

    6. Thanks, Robert, taking the trouble to reply at such length.

      To take your final point, it is clearly unreasonable for Parliament to take account of what is easier for your group to campaign for: if you are not yet able to come to a view on what time for reflection should involve, then the obvious conclusion is that there should be no change rather than, as you seem to be admitting, a proposal that isn't really what you want.

      On cutting the explicitly Christian content of religious observance, yes, that's exactly what I would expect you to campaign for: such a campaign would have the merit of honesty. (I suspect -as you seem to think yourself- it might well not be successful, but that's another matter.)

      The point is really this. Do we think that the practice of some period of reflection is a good thing in education or not? I think you do, but you have a very narrow view of what such reflection might involve. I'm perfectly happy for you to campaign about what the content of such reflection would be, but not at all happy for you to campaign in order to make access to such reflection more difficult. Most people in Scotland can live with the sort of (inevitable) compromise that exists in current reflection. My own children have attended non-denominational schools and have attended worship led by Protestant ministers. Have I always been totally happy with the content of that worship? No, but I'd rather have that than nothing. If there are egregious violations of the spirit of such a compromise, then again, I'd be happy to see you campaign on that. But, at the moment, I see that the only people who cannot live with the sort of time for reflection that goes on in the schools I've encountered are the holders of the sort of extreme anti-religious views that (eg) Caroline has expressed about Catholicism. That's fine -and I think they should be given an opt out. (Just as I hold socially unfashionable views on issues such as same sex 'marriage' and expect to be given opt outs from lessons in this area in schools.) But in neither my case nor your case do I expect what is an extreme minority view to undermine the normal course of education -which is that children, as a group, attend a variety of classes and practices in order to develop their knowledge and character.

      To take one specific point: "What we ARE sure about at the Secular Scotland campaign is that making children say prayers and sing hymns to a god in which they have no belief is not spiritual development." Why? Encountering the practice of a major form of a Weltanschauung which has dominated Western culture for 1500 years and (particularly in the form of Presbyterian Protestantism) is responsible for the shape of modern Scotland is surely an excellent thing. If I were still an atheist, I would explain to my children that this is a form of cultural exploration that people used to believe in literally, but that we now know better. (Just as I explained to mine now that the tenets of Presbyterianism are not exactly the same as Catholicism: it provided an excellent learning opportunity.) The only form of atheist who couldn't manage to cope with the (frankly, milquetoast) Christianity of most current practice is the sort of New Atheist who views religion as a virus that is both deadly and contagious. I don't see why we should organize our education system around such an irrational view. (At the very least, Secular Scotland should be honest -as is quite clear from your website- that this is your view of religion and that your argument is based on such a belief.)

    7. We live in a pluralistic democracy, and it isn't just a question of what we at The Scottish Secular Society want. We have to take into consideration that some parents do want schools to provide religious observance. I've no doubt some of us would prefer them not to want that, but the reality is that they do and we don't want to play a confiscating role. It is not that we are unable to come to a view on what time for reflection should involve: perhaps we could, but why bother thrashing out proposals that are likely to prove too controversial and be rejected? Instead, we decided that changing to an opt-in system would prove a workable compromise between no change at all, which to us is unacceptable, and removing all specifically Christian worship and preaching, which would be unacceptable to others. This is how democracy often works: through compromise and tolerance.

      As I wrote before, I do think that time for reflection can be a very good thing for schoolchildren, and you need not worry about us campaigning to make access to such reflection more difficult, since we have no wish to do any such thing. It is a secular form of time for reflection which we would expect to be offered in most schools as an alternative to RO: secular in the sense that it can reference religions and use them as a source but without privileging them above other sources or presenting their metaphysical tenets as fact. It would be up to schools, however, what they choose to offer, as long as they are offering something that isn't sharpening pencils or sitting in a corridor.

      When non-religious children are told to pray and sing hymns, they are NOT merely "encountering the practice of a major form of a Weltanschauung which has dominated Western culture for 1500 years". They are being asked to pretend that it is THEIR Weltanschauung, when it is not, and this is nothing less than the organised encouragement of dishonesty. Do you think it virtuous to dissemble in worship? It should not be necessary to explain to children "that this is a form of cultural exploration that people used to believe in literally, but that we now know better". Why should parents have to do such repair work and counteract the impressions children are being given in schools? Why should they have to undermine their children's trust in the school as a place of learning? Maybe your discussion with your children about the differences between Catholicism and Prebyterianism did provide an excellent learning opportunity, but many parents expect the SCHOOLS to provide the excellent learning opportunities, since it is what they are paid to do.

      We ARE being completely honest about our intention, which is to make RO an opt-in activity. There is no hidden agenda.

      Caroline Lynch is not an anti-religious extremist, but I don't need to defend her criticism of the Catholic Church as she has already done so.

    8. 1) The effect of your proposals will, undoubtedly, make religious observance more difficult for schools to run. It will, moreover, fragment the school body and undermine the school community. It will encourage parents to pick and choose in a curriculum rather than encouraging shared learning experiences and encounters with positions alien to their home environment. (Whilst I would not wish to remove your right to conscientious objection if you feel strongly that the goods of participation in such educational activities are outweighed by the possibility of contamination from religion, I see no reason to encourage such a position.)

      2) I can't imagine how, in our fragmented society, any sort of spiritual practice or exploration wouldn't be extremely messy, uncomfortable at different times to all of us, and in many ways, rather unsatisfactory. (My preferred solution would of course be that everyone becomes a Catholic and adopts the liturgical practices of the Church. Your preferred solution -well, that's what I'd like you to explain in more detail, but I think we can be sure that your own clear views on religion would make your ideal 'time for reflection' unacceptable to many or even most Scots.) Given this, there are only two possibilities: live with that messiness and learn from it; or drop 'time for reflection'. I have absolutely no doubt that the effect -whether intended or not- of your proposals would tend towards the latter consequence; I think it much better to aim for the former.

      'Why should parents have to do such repair work?' Well, simply because that's life. Children are surrounded by influences and people who are imperfect, morally and cognitively. That includes schools and teachers. As far as I can see, most teachers are making an honest attempt to navigate the complexities of modern Scottish beliefs without proselytizing or upsetting children. I'm sure this goes wrong occasionally and there you could do a good job by pointing out systematic failures. If I may be a little provocative (and I'm genuinely not trying to turn this into one of the usual atheist/theist slanging matches) part of the problem here may well be the typical New Atheist view that life is really rather simple and that 'religionists' tend to muddle up straight thinking with mystical rubbish. From my point of view, a much better characterization of the world we encounter is that it is indeed deeply complex and that any search for meaning in it is also difficult and complex. The sooner children are introduced to that complexity -even by way of a certain friction between school and parents- the better.

      I don't know whether Caroline is an anti-religious extremist: she has certainly behaved in a civilized manner in her exchanges here. But she does hold the belief that I am soaked in the blood of innocents. I confess the intensity of that view does make me slightly uncomfortable...

  3. One more thing, you equate my remarks about the Catholic Church as an attack on faith. This is mistaken, as with many believers you conflate the institution of the church with the faith of its attendees. The church is an international organisation which has meddled with democracy at state institutions throughout its history. Anyone who is familiar with the history of the Catholic Church would have to concede that I am correct in my remarks about bloodshed. From the Crusades to the Inquisition, through to the modern scandals of abuse, concealed and facilitated by the church, the Catholic Church is not innocent party.

    However, my criticism of the Catholic Church is not a criticism of Catholicism itself, any more than when I criticise the government for getting things wrong I am attacking democracy. I have a problem with the institution, not with the beliefs or the believers. I hope you can understand the difference.

    1. 'with many believers you conflate the institution of the church'

      I think this is symptomatic of the way in which you define Catholicism (or more generally religion) in a way that suits you and then claim to be protective of it.

      To get a preliminary issue out of the way, I agree that 'anyone who is familiar with the history of the Catholic Church' would have to concede that the Church, like the rest of humanity, is soaked in the blood of the innocent. Catholics like other human beings struggle with sin. I would not conclude from that -as you seem to- that there is a particular awfulness associated with the Church (indeed, I would argue the opposite). To the extent that you do in fact hold such a view, it is further evidence that you are not protective of Catholicism. (I think you should just admit that and get on with arguing the principled case for excluding Catholicism from the public sphere on the grounds that you believe it is an evil system.)

      Putting that aside, you distinguish the institution from its beliefs. Two responses:

      a) Catholicism is not just an system of belief but an institution (we'd prefer to say it is a 'communion' or the 'Body of Christ, but let that lie). To restrict Catholicism to the beliefs is to exclude this important theological understanding. Moreover, that institution is essentially hierarchical involving a particular relationship with the authority of Bishops and the Pope. (I can point you to the relevant parts of the Catechism if you wish.) So you can't neatly separate the institution from the beliefs. (Again, this is symptomatic of your imposing a meaning on the sorts of religion you wish to protect.)

      b) Even as a purely intellectual system, I doubt whether Catholicism is the sort of thing you wish to protect or not criticize. Let's focus on two points. First of all, there is the question of second order ethics -how one goes about making moral judgements. Would you, for example, accept the belief that the Magisterium of the Church has the right to authoritatively declare both the content of morality and its application to specific circumstances? (Catechism, paras 2032ff: Turning to first order ethics -the substantive moral beliefs- would you 'not criticize' the Church's teaching on contraception and sexual intercourse outwith marriage, particularly homosexual activity?

  4. Thanks for responding, Caroline. I'm glad you're not a man but the correspondence section of The Scotsman is dominated by men claiming to represent this or that body -and that was my point. (I note by the way that your own website is heavily dominated by contributions from Gary Otton whose foul mouthed rants against Christianity have led him being banned from The Scotsman website.)

    I'll take up a few of your points:

    1) On the input into your petition from members of many faiths and beliefs, the two main Christian bodies in Scotland (the Church of Scotland and the Catholic Church) have opposed your move. I'm sure that -given the wide variety of views you can find in modern Scotland- you can find a few members of a few generally liberal traditions who support you, but it is disingenuous to claim that these represent mainstream religious opinion.

    2) You claim that, 'Secularism is protective of religion'. The devil here is in the detail of what you mean by secularism and what you regard as human rights and the infringement of human rights. I'll say more below about why I don't accept that the practice of the Scottish Secular Society is terribly reassuring here, but, in any case, given the immense flexibility of the term 'secularism', you'll need to unpack it before your assertion that it is 'protective of religion' could be asserted. (In any case, it is quite clear that 'established religion' is protective of human rights and democracy since it is under such a regime that, in fact, human rights and democracy have flourished in the UK. That is simply historical fact: all you have is a pious hope that a move towards a further restriction of religion in the public sphere would serve the common good.)

    (to be continued below...)

  5. (Continued)

    3) On Jesus' own views, I wouldn't presume to comment! (If you're going to convince a Catholic you'll need to engage with Catholic Magisterial teaching on this rather than speculate on the basis of a vague impression of what Jesus might have thought about the Scottish educational system 2000 years in the future.) Your emphasis here is on the establishment of negative liberty: freedom from restrictions. (And thus your emphasis is on 'freeing' children from the restriction of being compelled to attend religious observance.) But in education, the aim can't simply be to free children from restrictions, but positively to give them something: in essence, a character that will enable them to function as flourishing adults. Clearly, the current view is that 'time for reflection' is an important part of such character formation. Do you disagree and if so, why?

    OK. Two specific questions:

    a) If you are worried about the content of 'time for reflection' and the treatment of children who refuse to attend it, why not campaign directly on these issues rather than create an 'opt in' rule that will make the 'time for reflection' more difficult to realize? (I am frequently concerned at the content of my children's (eg) maths lessons and how they are made to spend their time at school. I wouldn't dream of trying to solve these problems by suggesting that maths lessons should be held on an 'opt in' basis.)

    b) You claim to be 'protective of religion'. Yet you (personally) describe the Catholic Church as 'drenched in the blood of innocents' (it is your article I quote from above in the body of the post). Some other quotes from the articles on your website:

    "I think of it more like an alcoholic, heading for rock bottom, at which point it might either go under, or make a comeback. Going under would mean continuing with the suicidal policies of gender inequality, and obsession with sexual guilt. A comeback would mean some major changes, leading towards a future with general acceptance of gay marriage and gay adoption, a Catholic church purged of paedophilia, a Christianity free from literalist mythology, gender discrimination, “God of the gaps” reasoning and similar nonsense, and, in time, an Islam that has also freed itself from obscurantist nastiness."

    "Abstinence-only sex education has proven to be a catastrophic failure in America, despite the millions ploughed into it by former President George W Bush. Nonetheless, uniformed school-kids are filing in off coaches from all over the Catholic diocese of Paisley to fill an assembly hall at St Andrew’s Academy to watch mouthy, abstinence-only, religious zealot, Pam Stenzel poison their minds with fear and anxiety over sex."

    Could you explain how these remarks show that you are protective of Catholicism? (The obvious interpretation would be that you are protective of a certain form of religion -one that is not actually held by the Church.)

  6. We have no problem with Time for Reflection. The problem we have is that on the ground Time for Reflection is not what is delivered. It is almost always more than that. Sometimes drastically more.

    Our main problem is with ASSUMPTION. The assumption that parents automatically opt in to Christian worship.

    1. So you do have problems with 'time for reflection' as it concretely exists. Fine. Campaign for that.

      You also have a second problem with 'assumption'. OK. But why not therefore campaign against the assumption that children do maths, English, sex education etc.

      The obvious answer is that you don't think 'time for reflection' in any form that might be envisaged is an important part of education. Fine. But then admit that and then be ready to deal with the point that you are impoverishing children's education by excluding engagement with the spiritual.