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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Government Religion Policies Will Result In Parallel Communities

21 September 2005

Government Religion Policies Will Result In Parallel Communities
The government is in grave danger of inflaming inter-racial tensions if it persists with two of its polices which are profoundly misguided, says the National Secular Society (NSS).

The NSS says that the Government is inadvertently encouraging a separatist mentality in those from minority faiths by increasingly encouraging people to define themselves by their religion. The proposed increase in single faith schools will also reinforce the wall of separation that has developed between communities in Britain.

Speaking in support of Trevor Phillips of the Commission for Racial Equality, who will express concerns in a speech tomorrow about the increasing “ghettoisation” of society, Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the NSS, said: “The government is increasingly addressing citizens as religious groups, but relatively few people define themselves primarily in such a way. A Home Office survey shows religion only ranked ninth in importance to self identity. The danger in doing this is that the dialogue between the Government and minorities is almost exclusively with unelected leaders who are almost all theocratic in outlook. But many from ethnic minorities do not consider that religion is the first priority in their lives and resent being represented by men who cannot possibly speak for the whole of their communities, especially women, the young and the many who are not practising their community’s faith. It is time for a much wider representation.”

Mr Porteous Wood said that the Government’s plans to bring 150 Islamic schools into the state sector was also misguided. “The Education Minister will reportedly require these schools to take at least 25% of their pupils from other religions to ensure some integration. That this condition is being mooted indicates that the Government accepts that separate schools based on religion are an invitation to educational apartheid, but the requirement is entirely unrealistic. Islamia Infant school in Brent has had an open admissions policy for some years, but not a single non-Muslim admission. Many Muslim parents are happy for their children to attend mixed race community schools which will prepare them for life in the culture they will have to inhabit as adults. With integrated schooling, friendships can be made across the racial and religious spectrum but separated education leads to distrust and misunderstanding.”

Mr Porteous Wood added: “the Government must reverse its plans to expand the number of single faith schools and consult much more broadly about the needs of complex and multi-faceted minority communities.”

Published Tue, 25 Oct 2005