by Paula Murray
A CONTROVERSIAL campaign has been launched to scrap state-funded Catholic schools in a bid to end Scotland’s sectarian shame, the Sunday Express has learned.
The National Secular Society (NSS) has submitted papers to Holyrood demanding an end to taxpayers’ money being used to fund religion-based education north of the Border.
Officials have insisted a separate schooling system for Catholic children is helping to fuel religious divisions and the kind of tensions witnessed during Old Firm matches.
And, in written submissions to two parliamentary committees, they said it was now time to stop children being segregated in school because of their faith. But the move sparked anger and prompted the Scottish Government to defend the “vital contribution” made by religion-based schools.
Speaking to the Sunday Express yesterday Keith Porteous Wood, the NSS executive director, stoked the controversy by suggesting there is a link between schooling and sectarianism in Scotland.
He said: “Sectarianism is getting worse and the time has come for local authorities to be more careful about having separate schools. It is such a wasteful way of having a duplicate education system and I am not sure Scotland can afford it.
“Originally, the schools were put there for a good reason because of, sadly, the bad way Catholic kids coming over from Ireland were treated. It was thought the only way they were going to get a decent education was if the church organised it.
“But we have come a long way since those days.” He added: “It is more than Catholic education. It is not just educating but drumming into the pupils the doctrine of the Catholic Church and I don’t think it is legitimate for the state to pay for that.”
The NSS has tabled submissions to the Education and Justice Committees at Holyrood, in the aftermath of last season’s Old Firm matches. Last month, First Minister Alex Salmond delayed plans to introduce a new bill to target sectarian crime and other abusive behaviour.
Professor Norman Bonney, NSS National Council member for Scotland, said he had evidence that “separate schooling contributes towards religious divisions later in life”. He added: “It is of fundamental importance that we change this.”
Last month John Lamont MSP, the Scottish Tory justice spokesman, sparked anger after accusing the west of Scotland school system of overseeing “state-sponsored conditioning of sectarian attitudes”.
A few years ago, TV presenter Lorraine Kelly said that separate faith schools created conflict and suspicion and gave “bigots a chance to pollute the minds of impressionable youngsters”. But yesterday a Tory spokesman said the party’s policy – which Mr Lamont fully supports – was to promote diversity in education including faith schools. He added the Conservatives did not support the National Secular Society’s views and stressed: “We believe in choice in education and back the retention of faith schools.”
Following Mr Lamont’s comments in June, the Catholic Church rejected the remarks as “inflammatory and insensitive”.
The vast majority of Scotland’s denominational schools are Roman Catholic, with legal provision to ensure the promotion of a Catholic ethos. There are several Episcopal schools and one Jewish state primary school.
Officials at the Scottish Government yesterday insisted diversity in education was a source of richness and strength in society. A spokeswoman added: “Faith-based education has made a vital contribution and the right of parents to make that choice remains an important part of our school system.”
POLICE made 32 arrests yesterday for a “variety of offences” at an annual Orange Order Parade. Only six were for sectarian offences as 8,000 people from Glasgow’s 182 lodges marched through the city..
Courtesy of Scottish Sunday Express