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MSP calls for clampdown on bullying of young Christians

Church applauds politicians for highlighting stories of schoolchildren being mocked — By Daniel Harkins and Peter Diamond

An MSP has called for a clampdown on intimidation and mockery of people with religious belief after hearing of schoolchildren in her constituency being bullied for being Christian.

Kate Forbes, the SNP MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, last week asked the Scottish Government ‘what its position is on protecting young people’s right to religious observance, education and freedom of religious belief in schools.’

The MSP spoke out after receiving reports from constituents that their children felt ‘uncomfortable saying they were a Christian or demonstrating that they had religious faith or religious belief.’

Constituents told the MSP about a five-year-old being questioned by school staff for saying grace before lunch and of two teenage sons of a minister being bullied as ‘Bible bashers.’

The MSP has been applauded by the Catholic Church in Scotland, who called on the government to ensure religious freedom is respected.

Ms Forbes said: “A five-year-old saying grace before lunch is not hurting anyone and she should be free to do that.

“There is a perception that Christianity is a dominant group in Scotland so therefore there is probably little sympathy for my suggestion that people are bullied for their faith,” she added. “But while there may once have been institutionalised Christianity, that has since disappeared. Church attendance is declining and it is unusual for young people to express a Christian faith.

“I do think it is becoming more difficult for people with faith and that means that the schools and authorities have to do more to make sure schools are an inclusive environment.”


The MSP had previously told Premier Christian Radio that there is a ‘perception that if we de-religionise as much of public society as possible we’ll reach this perfect utopian peace, and actually that will never happen.’

“What we need is to create environments where there is no hostility to people who are different but an understanding and welcome of difference,” she said. “Five-year-olds should be allowed to say a wee quick grace before lunch if they want to.”

Ms Forbes stressed to the SCO however that Christians must keep things in perspective. She said Christians in Scotland had been guilty of an historical arrogance—though she added that Catholics in this country had ‘got this more right than Protestants, because of a history of being downtrodden.’ She stressed that we should remember that there are millions of Christians around the world that have no rights whatsoever.

In his response to Ms Forbes’ question, Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: “Freedom of religious belief is an important feature of Scottish life that must also apply in schools.

“The Education (Scotland) Act 1980 provides a statutory basis for local authorities to provide Religious Observance and Religious and Moral Education in Scottish schools, with RME also embedded in Curriculum for Excellence.

“The legislation also gives parents a right to withdraw their child from these activities, with Scottish Government guidance stressing the importance of including children and young people in any decision to opt out.”


The Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch constituency has no Catholic secondary schools and Catholic pupils are educated in the non-denominational sector.

A spokesperson for the Catholic Church said the bullying complaints were ‘a sad reminder that the diversity and tolerance so often trumpeted by Scotland’s politicians does not extend to every part of society.’

“Christianity continues to be the world’s most persecuted religion and it is worrying to think that this low level harassment takes place in our schools,” he said.

“The minister’s response sadly, seems to ignore completely the issue of freedom of religious belief in schools. Protection of pupils and their right to hold and practice a religious belief should be actively secured in our education system.’

Anthony Horan, the director of the Catholic Parliamentary Office, said: “This is a sad, yet unsurprising reflection of the ongoing hostility to religion in public life that families feel they have to contact a member of parliament to raise concerns about what should be completely unremarkable displays of faith.

“The right of all citizens and religious communities to religious freedom must be recognised and respected. If Scotland is to be a truly tolerant, progressive, forward thinking society it must uphold the rights of children to express their religious beliefs, without fear of prejudice or discrimination.”

Mr Horan added that the Scottish Government ‘cannot keep brushing the anti-Catholic problem under the carpet or masking it under the cloak of ‘sectarianism’ in the hope that it will somehow disappear.’

“I applaud Kate Forbes for raising this issue with ministers and I would urge any Catholics who have experienced similar harassment and intolerance, no matter how insignificant they think it might be, to approach their MSP so that the Scottish Government may be held to account,” he said.

A Highland Council spokeswoman said: “Any bullying of any children for any reason is entirely unacceptable. The council and its schools acts very firmly against bullying behaviour.

“Highland schools acknowledge and support diversity in an inclusive environment, with respect for all children who want to practice a faith.”

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