Schools face ‘bigoted’ attack
Publication Date: 2011-05-13
— Bishop Devine leads dismissal of legal group’s claim Catholic education causes sectarianism
Leading Scottish Catholics have united in their condemnation of an extreme attack on Catholic schools that purported their abolition was the only way of ‘confronting and counteracting sectarianism’ in Scotland.
Senior Catholic clergy, lawyers and educationalists have resoundingly dismissed the Scottish Legal Action Group’s call for an end to Catholic state education on these grounds.
Bishop Joseph Devine of Motherwell told the SCO that the editorial in the Scolag journal was a ‘malicious proposal’ and nothing short of an ‘outrageous attack on the freedom and democratic principles of our country.’
Bishop Devine, the member of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland with responsibility for education, went on to say that he believed that sectarianism itself was behind attacks on Catholic schools.
“The blunt truth is that sectarianism fuels the continuous attack on Catholic education in Scotland,” he said. “The real enemy of all religious people is secularism which breeds sectarianism and those who espouse it and propagate it are Christianity’s greatest foes.
“I challenge these groups to produce the hard evidence to support their irresponsible claims or withdraw them. Around 130,000 young people—just over 20 per cent of the school population—are taught in 369 Catholic schools across Scotland. It would appear that the greater the achievements of [our] Catholic schools… the greater the hysteria grows for their abolition.”
Bishop Devine pointed out that both Prime Minster David Cameron and First Minister Alex Salmond have been wholehearted in their praise of Catholic schools.
“The Prime Minister believes that faith schools should be seen as the model for all state schools to follow, while Scotland’s First Minister urges us to celebrate our distinguished achievements,” he said.
All the major political parties contesting the Scottish parliamentary election on May 5 told the SCO that they would continue the current set up of Catholic state education.
“Most important of all, of course, is the fact that over 95 per cent of Catholic parents freely choose to have their children educated in Catholic schools,” the bishop added.
He also said that in many Catholic schools a substantial percentage of the school roll consists of children who are not Catholic, something he said was ‘a clear demonstration by their parents of their recognition of the value of Catholic schools in providing their children with an excellent academic, spiritual and well-rounded education.’
Michael McGrath, director of the Scottish Catholic Education Service, said he believed that Scolag was opining on a subject about which it was not knowledgeable.
“To say this is entirely out with the parameters of its expertise would be fair,” he said. “It is interesting and disappointing, that a supposedly informed journal would come to such a conclusion.
“If they consult the facts and the evidence I think they would have to withdraw their assertions. If they are so willing to ignore the reality of the situation it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that their assertions are based in prejudice.”
Maurice Jamieson, a Glasgow-based Catholic advocate, said he was baffled at the conclusion the piece had arrived at.
“Looking at the editorial, there is no evidence to support their conclusion and, as a lawyer, I find that concerning,” he said. “It also seems to suggest taking away the right of Catholics to send their children to Catholic schools, a right which is enshrined in law. And the assumption seems to be that taking that right away will somehow create a solution to these problems without conceding that this would be penalising people of faith.
“Taking that to its conclusion ‘pluralist secularism’ solves a problem by denying rights of one group in society when apparently it’s all of society’s problem. That is discriminatory and inconsistent with tolerance, a key component of a mature and confident liberal democracy.”
Peter Kearney, of the Catholic media office, also condemned the article outright, saying ‘the Scolag editorial’s analysis of sectarianism in Scotland is so fatuous that it really doesn’t merit a response.’
He did, however, speak of the legal implications. “These comments on Catholic schools, though published in an obscure and arcane journal, still constitute an ill informed and unprovoked attack on religious freedom,” he said. “The European Convention on Human Rights enshrines the right of parents to have their children educated in accordance with their beliefs.”
The editorial in the May edition of the Scolag journal was written in response to the recent media furore over sectarianism that has seen parcel bombs sent to high profile Catholics.
The article attacking Scotland’s Catholic schools is perceived as an extreme view at the fringes of society.
“The Scottish Parliament has expressly legislated to make religious discrimination an aggravation to a criminal offence,” it says. “But the degree to which such legal measures can counteract sectarianism is questionable and even doubtful when in other regards our law and civic bodies continue to enshrine, protect and systematically promote social division on religious lines.
“That is done most widely and effectively in our education system where the maintenance of religious instruction and observance, along with the public funding of denominational schools create and perpetuate religious discrimination.”
The editorial also claims its call would serve ‘an even wider purpose, confronting and counteracting sectarianism as well as exclusion and discrimination in other forms if, at long last, a clear division was established in Scotland between church and State by ending religious instruction and denominational schools.’