Being a newly minted resident of the United Kingdom, I’ve learned that much can surprise you in this gloriously beautiful country with utterly filthy weather. One thing that might catch an American atheist off-guard is how the UK, a country far more secular than the US, maintains official ties with religion that are unthinkable in a country with the First Amendment.
One of these ties is the existence of state-funded faith schools. Historically these were Christian schools that agreed to teach a general state-mandated curriculum in exchange for being funded by the government. In the mid 90s, the Labour government expanded the religions that were allowed under this system. Today, though the vast majority of faith schools are either Church of England or Catholic, there are also Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, and Hindu schools — all funded by tax-payers.
So what kinds of perks come with being a faith school? Though specific rules can vary by region, generally speaking:
- The school is allowed to discriminate on the basis of religion when selecting a hefty proportion of the students.
- The governing church/temple/mosque/etc. will often have the ability to choose, and dismiss, employees on the basis of religious doctrine.
- The school is allowed to maintain a certain religious ethos, including mandatory worship and sectarian religious education.
All of these things are bad, and that is only compounded by the fact that they are funded by taxpayers. Sadly, because the UK lacks a strong separation of church and state, they are perfectly legal. However the state has put its foot down when it comes to faith schools teaching Creationism.
At least until now.
Three schools have won approval to switch over from being religious private schools to state-funded “free schools” while expressing Creationist views on the origin of the universe.
One of the schools, Sevenoaks Christian School, says that while it won’t teach creationism as an alternative to evolution, it will teach children aged 11 to 18 that “God made the world and loves what he has made” in religious education class.
More worrying still is Grindon Hall School, which had a “Creation Policy” (DOC). It states:
We will affirm the fact that “God created the world and everything in it”. We will affirm that he did so “ex nihilo” — out of nothing.
After that very poor start they are quick to assure that they do not share the “rigid Creationist’s insistence” on literalistic interpretations of the Bible and make some soothing sounds about getting along with evolution. Then things go downhill fast:
However, we vigorously challenge the unscientific certainty often claimed by scientists surrounding the so-called “Big Bang” and origins generally.
We believe that no scientific theory provides — or ever will provide — a satisfactory explanation of origins, i.e. why the world appeared, and how nothing became something in the first place.
We will teach evolution as an established scientific principle, as far as it goes.
We will teach creation as a scientific theory and we will always affirm very clearly our position as Christians, i.e. that Christians believe that God’s creation of the world is not just a theory but a fact with eternal consequences for our planet and for every person who has ever lived on it.
This document has since been removed from the school’s website after it’s existence was denounced by the British Humanist Association.
The headmaster of the school now claims this is an “obsolete” document and that science class would be kept free of Creationism, a subject that would be reserved for assembly (collective worship), adding:
“If children question for themselves their origins, that’s what we want them to do — to ask sensible, responsible questions. Am I here by accident, or — dare I use the word — design?“
Are you reassured? Yeah, neither am I.
In the end, these are the dangers you confront when you allow state money to go towards segregated sectarian education. Though there are many schools where the religious aspect will be merely decorative and the curriculum utterly indistinguishable from a fully secular school, there will always be those so devout that they are unable to separate their religious beliefs from their legal obligations. Paying such people to educate children and expecting them to keep their beliefs separate from their jobs is like giving a match and wood to a pyromaniac and asking him to build furniture. Sooner or later, something is going to be wrecked.
(Thanks to Mike for the link)