Monday, 8 December 2014

Religion and politics should not mix

Through superior education and ownership of land, the Church of the Middle Ages acquired power to challenge that of monarchs until Henry 8 swallowed it into his realm. This survived the separation of monarchy from Parliament in the 17th century to remain the anomaly we have still today, of an Established Church. We thus live in a secular parliamentary democracy in which institutions pay deference to an unelected Head of State who also heads the State religion. Furthermore, this Church is given rights such as votes in the House of Lords and influence over the education of our children.

The very existence of Church schools, funded by the State, itself an anachronism, creates precedent whereby other faiths demand parity, so we now have tax-payer money funding faith schools which exclude non-believers, teaching different fictions, over which there is no public accountability and in a secular country with a State religion. How can this do other than fracture society?

The Labour movement certainly had its roots in non-conformist Christianity, with a strong ethic of serving others not just self. It is constitutionally committed to equality above all else. How is this served by schools which exclude on grounds of irrational beliefs? The worthy aspects of all mainstream religions may seem sound bases for political and educational doctrine but such ethos was lost long ago, leaving the example of the Established Church as one of hierarchy, power, wealth, deference and discrimination against women - the very antithesis of Labour values.

This hangover from the Middle Ages may look good in the rear-view mirror of the ageing Tory omnibus but must surely be challenged and addressed by Labour.  It must be time to separate Church and State once and for all time. Let religions survive and even thrive on the basis of convincing followers rather than by force-feeding the impressionable. Just as urgently, faith schools of all strands should ideally no longer exist but certainly not survive on tax-payers' funding, to perpetuate and proselytise myths of yesteryear. State-funded schools should operate to nationwide standards and practices. This is not the politics of envy but of equality. All it takes is the courage to do it.

Tom Serpell

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