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9th May 2014 at 01:00

Marshalling a defence against religious privilege

The decision on Tuesday by the Scottish Parliament's Education and Culture Committee to close our petition to end the practice of nominating three religious members to each local authority education committee has been made prematurely.

The committee has failed to address issues raised in a submission by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to Parliament's Public Petitions Committee. The EHRC is concerned that some religious denominations have a right of nomination of members to committees, whereas other denominations and non-religious persons do not. The Church of Scotland said at its general assembly last year that religious representatives held the "balance of power" in 19 of 32 authorities.

This practice stems from 1970s legislation but is not fair to other religious groups or non-religious groups. Scotland's demographics are changing: in the 2011 census, 37 per cent of people declared no religion. The EHRC says that existing arrangements are questionable under the UK Equality Act 2010. The Scottish Parliament and Scottish government both need to address this issue.

We hope that the EHRC's concerns will now be examined during consideration of John Finnie MSP's proposed bill on the subject. Designed to enhance transparency and accountability in local government, the bill includes the provision to remove local education committees' obligation to appoint religious representatives.

Colin Emerson

Chair of Edinburgh Secular Society

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