As a former and formative resident of East Kilbride, I followed with interest the various news articles regarding the Church of Christ dishing out creationist propaganda in a state-funded primary school.
It goes without saying that anti-scientific nonsense has no place in any schools, but with a Government in Holyrood that promotes the role of religion in education, why should this one religious group be singled out for special comment?
It goes without saying that the contents of the literature is absolute nonsense, as this article by Prof. Paul Braterman shows.
There is also a point, articulated by Prof Norman Bonney in this article, that the Church of Christ could claim persecution after being summarily dismissed after some heavy handed rhetoric by The Daily Record. After all, surely creationism is one in a series of unscientific faith positions which is taught to children through the dubious process of ‘Religious Observance’.
Of course, I’m not advocating that the Church of Christ continue to play a role in Kirktonholme Primary School, parents were quite right to raise their objections to the school, and the education authority.
South Lanarkshire Council were quick to act in suspending two members of the Senior Management Team. This was condemned as a ‘knee-jerk reaction’ by teaching unions. Interestingly, South Lanarkshire Council have made an interesting precedent, by effectively finding against the Church of Christ for what could be perceived as theological reasons. What if it is discovered that other minority faith groups are providing chaplaincy teams to schools, will they too be removed? Will only ‘traditional’ faith groups (whatever that means) be allowed access to schools?
Knowing the area, I spoke to a few of my friends in the area. Many of my Christian friends were appalled and angry that their children were given such nonsense in schools. Of course, it goes without saying that most Christians regard creationism as complete gibberish. In fact, the Church of Christ are alleged to have stated that there are only 700 ‘real’ Christians in Scotland.
Indeed, when I attended the ‘Reason’ conference at Westwoodhill Evangelical Church in East Kilbride on Saturday 14th September 2013, I was less than surprised to hear Rev David Robertson use the press coverage as an excuse to stir up his ‘persecuted Christianity’ rhetoric. At the same conference, I was amused to hear Dr Alistair Noble, of the Centre for Intelligent Design, explain to me that he had not reviewed the books given out at Kirktonholme, but assured me that ‘intelligent design is quite different from creationism’.
Aside from being angry and upset, most other parents that I spoke to were a bit annoyed that their town, and children’s school had become a scene for a vitriolic outpouring, with fanned flames from the Daily Record. After all, by all accounts, the school had been – in the most part – fairly trouble-free beforehand. It’s not very often that highly personal and emotive issues such as these are settled with the help of The Daily Record.
There is currently a petition before the Scottish Parliament to change ‘Religious Observance’ from ‘opt-in’ to ‘opt-out’. The petitioners believe that this will reduce the incidence of religious observance, leading to a decline in take-up and eventual cessation.
I have a few problems with this approach, firstly, it seems that Kirktonholme Primary School were simply following guidance from the Scottish Government on Religious Observance, which states that schools are encouraged to engage with “representatives of faith groups and communities” – of which the Church of Christ is one.
Secondly, requiring both schools to provide detailed information to parents in advance, and for parents to give or reject consent for (at the least) eight events per year, is highly resource-intensive during a period of financial scrutiny within the education system.
Thirdly, I don’t think that is is the job of the State to create religious bureaucracy. Religion and faith are highly personalised and private matters, it’s short-sighted to think that the Government could design a programme of collective worship which would be fair to all.
It seems to me that the only way forward, is that religious worship should be removed from state schools. I don’t think that our tax money should be spent funding collective worship opportunities, regardless of what parents think.
Surely the best place for children to discover and develop religion (if they wish) is the family home, or establishments designed for that specific purpose – churches!
It’s time to END not AMEND religious observance in Scotland’s state-schools.