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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Editorial by Terry Sanderson

Goodbye, good riddance and don’t come back
Amid all the strife and turbulence in the financial world, there is some good news in the political sphere. Two politicians who have tried hard to impose religion on to legislation have been ousted from positions where they could do damage. The government has become just a little more secular for their departure.

Ruth Kelly controversially resigned/got sacked (take your pick) from her job as Transport Secretary and from the government. She has now announced that she will step down as an MP at the next election. She also — at long last — confirmed what we all knew anyway: that she is a member of Opus Dei, the sinister ultra right-wing Catholic organisation that reserves its membership only for those in positions of influence. Presumably Opus Dei, too, will dump her now that she no longer has the power to further their nasty aims behind the scenes in Government.

Ms Kelly gave an interview to the Times earlier this week (see Quotes of the Week above) and made clear that she thinks Christian politicians should bring not only their “faith” but also their religion’s dogmas to parliament. The former maybe, but not the latter.

When it became clear from her voting record that Ms Kelly was hitching her wagon to the Vatican rather than New Labour, she had to go. After all, she signed up to the Labour Party manifesto that promised the Fertility and Embryology Bill, and then she demanded to be let off voting for it. Her cabinet decided that homosexuals would have rights enshrined in law. Mysteriously, Ms Kelly was nowhere to be seen when the votes were taken. We say good riddance to her.

And we also bid a not very fond farewell to Lord Adonis, the education minister, who has been moved to transport in Gordon Brown’s cabinet reshuffle.

Despite being unelected, Andrew Adonis has almost single-handedly steered the academy and “faith school” expansion programme through parliament. It seemed nothing could stop him as he encouraged “faith groups” of all kinds — wild and wacky included — to apply to run academies, entirely at the taxpayers’ expense – with running expenses guaranteed in perpetuity. Despite backbench unease at the privatisation of schools and the expansion of religion into education, Adonis marched on, with his mandate from Holy Tony Blair. He was appointed an education policy adviser at Number 10, the year in which legislation was passed separately categorising schools and legalising discrimination against teachers and school staff on religious grounds that in some cases could even extend to how they conduct their private lives. It was a shock to some of the schools so categorised that they were religious at all as any vestige of their apparently religious origins had long since disappeared. He was also in power when the CofE embarked on a survey to discover — to its apparent surprise — that the proportion of primary schools that were CofE was much higher than secondary schools, therefore they must have more secondary schools.

Lord Adonis was on the sidelines cheering on this manipulative charade. Lord Adonis will be pleased to go down in history as the single person in the last century responsible for the opening of the greatest number of religious schools in the UK, and of the disbursement of the greatest publicly funded largesse to them.

But now his rampage has been brought to an abrupt end. It seems Ed Balls, the education secretary, was not at all in sympathy with Lord Adonis and his farming out of education to almost anybody who wanted it.

It is reported that the Tories want him to defect to their side, because they like his idea of getting local authorities out of the education system and handing schools over to – well, you know who. When we were at the Conservative Party Conference last week, we heard from their education spokesman’s own lips that not only would the “faith school” agenda continue, it would intensify. Stand by for news of someone crossing the floor.

It will be interesting to see where the Government will take the education system from here. Let’s hope that when it has its rethink, it will give serious thought to bringing an end to the “faith school” madness.

10 October 2008


Published Fri, 10 Oct 2008