Barry Sheerman on faith: OK in moderation

At least six cheers for Barry Sheerman, Labour MP for Huddersfield, with his splendidly English reaction to reports that Roman Catholic bishops in England are trying to insist that state-funded Catholic schools should teach Catholic doctrine (including condemnation of abortion, contraception, same-sex partnerships, etc.) and stay clear of such banned activities as sex education.  According to The Observer on 30 December 2007, —

Barry Sheerman, chairman of the parliamentary cross-party committee on children, schools and families, said he …. felt that behind the scenes there was 'intense turmoil' about the future of Catholic education.  'A group of bishops appear to be taking a much firmer line and I think it would be useful to call representatives of the Catholic church in front of the committee to find out what is going on,' he said. 'It seems to me that faith education works all right as long as people are not that serious about their faith. But as soon as there is a more doctrinaire attitude questions have to be asked. It does become worrying when you get a new push from more fundamentalist bishops. This is taxpayers' money after all.'  [Emphasis added]

Mr Sheerman's interrogation of the RC bishops whom he proposes to summon to give an account of themselves to his parliamentary committee should be an event to remember.


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4 Responses

  1. It's not just Catholics. We should follow the French and take all religious indoctrination out of education.

    If you haven't seen it, I recommend The Golden Compass in this context, as well as the books on which it is based.

    Brian writes:  I appreciate the recommendation, but the synopsis here doesn't exactly light my fire…. 

  2. chris says:

    Well fancy that!  Catholic schools doing what they are supposed to do.

    Brian writes:  Which would be absolutely fine, if they weren't doing it at the expense of (mostly non-Catholic) taxpayers.   But I wonder if you are missing the main point of my post, which is to express admiration for Barry Sheerman's remark about faith schools not doing much harm so long as people don't take their faith too seriously….

  3. John Miles says:

    One or two points:

    First, what's the main argument for publicly funded faith schools?  My impression is that it's this: the Church of England has always had them, so it's only fair that other religions should have them as well. This seems to me to be a valid argument, provided you accept the implied premise: that it's right that C of E schools should be publicly funded. But is it?

    Second, I can't see anything wrong with people of faith wanting to run, or actually running, schools if that's what they want to do.  But have they the right to turn away "customers," i.e. pupils, or workers, i.e. teachers, on religious, any more than on racial, grounds?  What other publicly funded, or publicly subsidised, organisations do we allow to do this? Hospitals? Charities? Sports clubs? Businesses?

    Third, it seems to me that educational apartheid does very little to help promote harmonious relations between the different groups you are likely to get in any society.  Consider Israel, Cyprus and Northern Ireland.

    Last, faith schools seem to encourage hypocrisy. Lots of people suddenly get religion in a pretty big way if they want to get their child into what they think is a good school.  And who can really blame them?  And the school is often happy to connive provided the child looks reasonably bright.

    Brian writes: I agree with these strictures on what seems to me a thoroughly pernicious and indefensible system, which however none of our political masters of any party is likely to have the guts to dismantle. 

  4. George says:

    Catholic schools are on the whole partially funded by the state. The Governors of the school have put up 100 per cent of the original capital. Over the years the State repays that cost. The last time I checked, Catholics were paying taxes.

    Brian writes:  There are obviously numerous objections of principle and practicality to religious organisations of any description running schools and injecting their religious beliefs into the young minds in their care, even if no element of state funding is involved — which of course it generally is.  It's probably politically impossible to ban such schools altogether as socially divisive and purveyors of superstition, but surely the least we can do is ensure that not a penny of public money goes to them — and that they are regularly and rigorously inspected to ensure that they are obeying our education and other laws as regards the national curriculum, stirring up religious or racial hatred, practising discrimination contrary to law, or even practising selection in choosing which pupils to accept.  Ideally all children should be educated, together with others of all faiths and races, in outstanding state schools, receiving religious indoctrination if their parents insist on subjecting them to it in the evenings and at weekends — at the parents' or their religious organisations' expense. 

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