Soapbox: Kirk role on education committees 'anti-democratic' – Gordon MacRae

Written by Gordon MacRae, Chief Executive, Humanist Society Scotland on 4 December 2015 in Comment

Humanist Society Scotland argues against Church of Scotland involvement in education committees

At the end of September we published a prelude chapter to a piece of academic research, commissioned by Humanist Society Scotland, due to be released early in 2016. The prelude chapter looked at the role of religion in education.

We also welcomed the recent report by the Arts and Humanities Research Council on the provision of religious observance which called for, among other things, changing RO to an inclusive ‘time for reflection’.

Last month Graeme Donald wrote a piece for Holyrood (issue 347) in which he outlined the reasons he supports the Church of Scotland having unelected positions on local authority education committees. It is welcome that Graeme admits “the role has little to do with the Church’s history and involvement in Scottish education”.


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Local councils are able to call witnesses or request depositions from any groups or individuals they wish. Religious representatives are the only non-elected members of local authority education committees, which are called for by statute. These unelected religious members have full voting rights, and the Kirk even calculated that they can ‘hold the balance of power’ in 19 of Scotland’s 32 local authorities.

We believe that this is anti-democratic and archaic. This is, of course, not a judgement on the Church of Scotland, or any member of the Kirk. I’m sure there are many members of the Kirk that have a lot to offer, and if councillors wish, they should feel free to seek their advice.

The presumption, however, that the Church of Scotland has a unique ethical or educational insight which no other members of society have is absurd. In a society where one-in-two people are not religious and 71 per cent of (14-17 year old) children say they have no religion, on what possible basis could the Church of Scotland claim to be providing a service to education?

In 2014 we joined with the Church of Scotland to call for a change in legislation to abolish religious observance, and introduce inclusive time for reflection. We would gladly welcome any moves from the church to see an end to this democratic outrage.

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