Tag Archives: Edinburgh Secular Society

Religion in Scottish Schools. (From The Scotsman)

“UNDEMOCRATIC, unelected, unscientific and self-serving” church leaders should not have the legal right to make decisions on school education, according to cross-party politicians and secular groups.

Churches hold the balance of power in nearly two thirds of council education committees due to legislation which compels councils to appoint three religious representatives, the secular coalition said.

The Edinburgh Secular Society (ESS) has lodged a petition to repeal the law, backed by The National Secular Society, Humanist Society Scotland and University of Edinburgh Humanist Society with the support of Green MSP Patrick Harvie and SNP councillor Sandy Howat.

Mr Harvie is particularly concerned about the promotion of creationism in schools, while Mr Howat said the churches’ right to unelected representation on boards is “undemocratic and untenable”.

But Father Tom Boyle, assistant general secretary of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland for the Catholic Church, who also sits on East Renfrewshire’s education committee, dismissed the petition as an attempt to “remove any influence of religion from public life”.

The ESS petition calls for a repeal of section 124 of the Local Government Act, which ensures religious representation on boards, following recent census results which show that nearly half of Scots profess no religious beliefs.

Colin Emerson, ESS vice-chair, said: “To afford a particular section of society a privileged position within the decision making process based solely on their particular and personal religious beliefs is profoundly and inherently undemocratic, unfair and discriminatory.”

Mr Harvie, MSP for Glasgow, said: “I’m particularly concerned at the involvement of people who would promote utterly unscientific notions like creationism, pushing this absurd ideology at children is the very opposite of education.”

Mr Howat, an elected member of Edinburgh Council’s education, children and families committee, said: “Unelected, unaccountable and I would suggest untenable.

“Undemocratic influence over public education is fundamentally at odds with the principles of respect, equality and shared freedoms.

“All contributions to committee deliberations should be welcomed, yet continued undemocratic privilege of the few over the many is an outdated tradition we should remove. As we look to create a fairer Scotland, we need to ask ourselves what this ‘privilege’ says about our values .”

However Fr Boyle said: “This betrays their ignorance of schools in Scotland, which had their origins in the churches before they were transferred into the state system, and that’s why we take an interest in them, because they belonged to us.

“As well as that, the Catholic Church is one of the largest educators in the world, so we have a certain expertise.

“It’s the ongoing campaign to remove any influence of religion from public life in our country.”

A Church of Scotland spokesperson said: “The somewhat hysterical language used by the secularist groups suggests aggression to cover for a weak argument.

“The contribution of religious representatives in being independent, rooted in communities and often with a great deal of experience in education, is greatly valued by councils across the country.

“And this attack on their personal integrity by the secularists is extraordinary and really quite sad.”

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Calls for religious reps to leave education panels

Edinburgh Evening News                                        


The Edinburgh Secular Society (ESS) has accused the churches of “religious interference at the heart of local democracy” and said allowing unelected religious representatives full voting rights was damaging to democracy.

It pointed out the places were required by law to be given to church representatives while humanists and people with no religious faith were excluded.

ESS founding member Professor Norman Bonney said: “The legally required appointment of religious nominees to education committees is profoundly undemocratic.

“There has to be a fundamental rethink of these arrangements to ensure that education committee decisions are made by councillors, not by unelected religious reps.”

SNP councillor Sandy Howat said religious reps were “unelected, unaccountable and untenable”.

He said: “All contributions to committee deliberations should be welcomed, yet continued undemocratic privilege of the few over the many is an outdated tradition we should remove.”

The Reverend Thomas Coupar, one of the three religious representatives on Edinburgh’s children and families committee, said he could understand the 

He said: “It’s a fair enough debate. Do we have a contribution to make? I think we certainly do. Will it always stay this way? I wouldn’t think so.”

But Michael McGrath, director of the Scottish Catholic Education Service, said: “The church’s involvement in education goes back centuries. Schools were first founded by the churches and the existence of church representatives reflects that long-standing connection.”

Rev Sally Foster-Fulton, convener of the Church of Scotland’s church and society council, said there were legitimate questions about why religious representatives served on education committees.

But she said: “I’m disappointed at the suggestion religious reps have a hidden agenda. Instead of having a meaningful debate, we hear a misguided attack on people who give their time in the service of their community.”

A city council spokesman said: “We’re legally obliged to have religious representatives on the committee, and they along with our teacher and parent representatives all make a valuable contribution to the work of the committee.”


EDINBURGH City Council has three church reps on its children and families committee.

They are former teacher Craig Duncan (Church of Scotland); retired Holy Rood RC High School deputy head Marie Allan (Catholic); and the Rev Thomas Coupar, an Episcopalian priest, chaplain at the Thistle Foundation’s Robin Chapel and former headteacher and education adviser.

There are also two teacher representatives and a parents rep, all of whom have full voting rights on education issues.

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