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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

NSS in Debate with Faithworks

The debate with Faithworks, which took place on Monday at a London church, saw Polly Toynbee and Keith Porteous Wood up against the Rev Steve Chalke and Elaine Storkey on the proposition “Is there a place for faith in public life in Britain?”

It was a lively debate which illustrated the enormous gulf that has arisen between secularists and those who want religion to play a bigger part in running the country.

Keith Porteous Wood made the point that where religion is given privileged access to the state, it invariably ends up abusing that power. Polly Toynbee insisted that Britain was the most secular state in the world, but those who think they have the one and only truth will try to promote it anywhere they go.

On the other side, Steve Chalke insisted that he was “not religious” (he is a Baptist Minister) and wouldn’t want to proselytise. He said that the six academies his Faithworks organisation is taking over will be non-selective. He did not say why it was necessary for a “faith” organisation to have control of these schools if the promotion of faith wasn’t the motive. He said that a strictly secular state would be “incredibly repressive”, a contention that both Keith and Polly energetically opposed.

Elaine Storkey went into theology-speak, of the Rowan Williams kind, and few people could really understand what she was saying.

The debate was attended by a good number of secularists as well as a large number of religious people.


Read Steve Chalke’s take
Read Polly Toynbee
Read Keith Porteous Wood’s take
Report of event

The NSS also took part in a debate on single faith schools on Thursday at the London Jewish Cultural Centre. It was chaired by Anna Ford and among the speakers against faith schools were NSS Executive Director Keith Porteous Wood, Idris Mears, Director of the Association of Muslim Schools and Marilyn Mason. Despite the fact that there were four people speaking in favour of the schools and only two against, it was clear that the mood of the meeting was distinctly anti-faith schools, with some vigorous contributions from the floor.


Published Fri, 25 Nov 2005