Leave religion at the gate

21st May 2004 at 01:00
Professor Andrew McGowan asks (TESS, last week) "Can I justly deny Catholic parents what I would want for my own children?". But the real question he must face up to is: "Can I accept a Scotland in which every populous area has state-funded denominational schools for every religious group that demands them?"

It is clear from his article that he is pulled in different directions and that he is unable to resolve the dilemma that he acknowledges. His Glasgow upbringing makes him shy away from ProtestantCatholic segregation while his ministry in Mallaig and the Small Isles showed him the advantages of integrated schooling.

Yet he has problems with the increasing secularism of state schools and he seems to want us to go back to a time when non-denominational schools were essentially Protestant schools.

Sorry, Professor McGowan, but this is simply not on. The great majority of Scots may not say that they are atheists or humanists, but they manifestly do not give religious belief an important place in their lives.

This majority is quite entitled to insist that their children should not be indoctrinated with any particular religious belief and that religious and moral education should provide objective information about world religions and non-religious stances for living, without any bias by the teacher or the school towards any one belief system. Instruction in any belief system, if it is to be given, must take place away from the school.

If the kind of arrangement dreamt of by Professor McGowan, albeit tentatively and with much hesitation, were ever to come about a multiplicity of denominational schools would have to be complemented by a secular state system to which the great majority of pupils would still be sent.

In less populous areas, not only Mallaig but most of Scotland outside the central belt, the secular state system would still be the only one. As for the populous areas, sectarian, racial and associated social divisions would be exacerbated, to the detriment of the kind of social democracy to which most of us are firmly committed.

However, we can all relax because it is not going to happen. One question remains to be answered - for how long can we sustain the historical anomaly by which one denomination maintains its own schools within a state-funded and state-administered system? The French model of separation of state from religion becomes ever more attractive and compelling, on grounds of both principle and pragmatism.

Fred Forrester

North Larches


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