Different beliefs are united but unheard in calling for fair and equal education

Simon BarrowEkklesia’s Simon Barrow writes in Comment is Free that Gordon Brown was right to use biblical language at the Labour Part conference against those employing religious rhetoric to oppose diversity and equality in family policy.

He goes on to argue thast “a similar pluralist case now needs to be made in relation to faith schools – where the government’s desire to ease its finance problems and promote social cohesion is misguidedly colluding with the wishes of some leaders of faith communities (not least the Anglican and Catholic churches) who are looking for a new role and new credibility in their battle against long-term decline and public indifference.

At the moment, the case against the selection, segregation, employment restrictions and discrimination wrapped up within the pro-faith schools agenda is being heard as an essentially “anti-religious” one. The exclusive tenor of some secular groups is not helping with this, given the sensitivities involved.

The reality, however, is that the desire for integrated community education is one shared by people of a wide variety of convictions – as the demographics of repeated opinion polling in this area, which is overwhelmingly against the trajectory of government policy, indicates.

Humanists, Anglican chaplains, Jewish rabbis, atheists, members of the UK Hindu Council, British Muslims for Secular Democracy, the Christian thinktank Ekklesia, those of no fixed life stance, and others who defy easy labelling are united in wanting fairness and equality in public education.

However, though they are the majority, they are often not hearing their voices – which resource the case for pluralism from distinctive perspectives – reflected in public debate. This needs to change.

As Yahya Birt, research fellow at The Islamic Foundation, argues: a plural vision of secularity is to do with establishing a modus vivendi and framework of equality between different voices in public life.

“It accepts that you come to the public debate with baggage that will inform your arguments. In this, the government tries to find common ground and the best possible consensus, which can only work if we share enough to behave civilly.”

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