‘Intolerant’ MP’s plan to ‘chip away’ at Catholic schools
Publication Date: 2017-03-10
Remarks by Tommy Sheppard, the SNP MP for Edinburgh East, have been condemned by the Church and rejected by the Scottish Government
A senior member of the SNP has let slip plans to work with Scottish humanists to end Catholic education in Scotland.
Remarks by Tommy Sheppard, the MP for Edinburgh East, have been condemned by the Church as ‘chillingly intolerant,’ and have been rejected by the Scottish Government.
A recording of a Humanist Society Scotland (HSS) Fringe event at last year’s SNP conference has emerged in which Mr Sheppard said he wanted a ‘secular school system’ in Scotland.
The event was promoting the Scottish humanist society’s ‘Enlighten Up’ campaign’ which seeks to end mandatory religious representation on local authority education committees.
Mr Sheppard (above) said the way to achieve a fully secular school system in Scotland was to do it ‘bit by bit.’
“Some of the things in the Enlighten Up campaign are, I believe, exactly the way to do that,” he said. “Chip away at the power organised religion has within our school system.”
Mr Sheppard, a ‘proud member’ of the Humanist Society Scotland, said they should ‘take those little victories and use them to move onto the next campaign where we actually advocate that the role of religion in schools is for people to learn about it but not for it to define the value system in the school.”
Mr Sheppard declined to comment when approached by the SCO.
A spokesperson for the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland said: “This is a blatant attack on religious freedom and chillingly intolerant.
“While members of the Humanist Society claim to be proud of their belief system, they don’t seem sufficiently proud of it to argue for humanist schools which would be underpinned by humanist beliefs,” he said. “It may be a belief system with few adherents in Scotland but that should not prevent state recognition for schools that adhered to it. The Registrar General already categorises humanist weddings as part of the ‘Religion and Belief’ marriage statistics. There’s no reason why their schools couldn’t be similarly categorised. Advancing the rights of humanists by demolishing the educational rights of Catholics is hypocritical in the extreme.”
He added that Mr Sheppard should know that ‘religious belief is a protected characteristic and when it is expressed through educational choice it should not come under attack.’
“Currently over 20 per cent of the school population choose Catholic schools,” he said. “This parental choice reflects the educational value of Catholic schools, consistently documented in HMIe reports.”
An SNP spokesperson said: “These views do not represent the position of the SNP or the Scottish Government and are simply the personal views of Mr Sheppard.
“The SNP is a strong supporter of faith schools. They play an important part in Scotland’s education system, and the SNP Government believe it’s important for parents and pupils to have the choice to attend a faith school if they want to.”
Also at the humanist fringe event was HSS chief executive Gordon MacRae. While stressing that Tommy Sheppard’s words were his alone, he told the SCO that his society ‘advocate a secular education system.’
“We believe the way to secure inclusive education is to work with existing schools and advocate they move towards a secular basis, and we will continue to do so,” he said.
Among the Catholic schools in Mr Sheppard’s constituency is Holy Rood High which he has visited.
The school’s headteacher Lorraine Legrix said it was a ‘very successful, very inclusive school’ that was ‘often complemented on its ethos.’
—This story ran in full in the March 10 edition print of the SCO, available in parishes.