NSS urges education secretary to end religious appointees law

Posted: Mon, 22nd Aug 2022

NSS urges education secretary to end religious appointees law

The National Secular Society has called on Scotland's education secretary to end automatic places on education committees for religious appointees following concerns from councillors.

In a letter to Scotland's Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, Shirley-Anne Somerville, the NSS called for legislative reform to remove religious appointees because "religious views do not require privileged status and should compete for representation, as all other ideas do, via the democratic process."

The Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 requires local authorities in Scotland to appoint three religious representatives to their education committees. At least one of them must be appointed by the Catholic Church and one by the Protestant Church of Scotland.

As religious representatives have voting rights in most councils, they are able to influence local education policy.

The letter from National Secular Society chief executive Stephen Evans, and co-signed by Edinburgh Secular Society, comes in the wake of criticism from Shetland Isles councillors required to appoint a religious representative earlier this month.

Gary Robinson, of Lerwick North, said the requirement was "quite frankly ridiculous in the 21st century", adding the appointment was made "not because we want to, because we are being required to".

This sentiment was echoed by fellow councillors.

The full Shetland Islands Council (pictured) subsequently passed a motion to initiate a dialogue with the Scottish government on the matter via the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.

In April 2019, Perth and Kinross Council voted to end religious representatives' voting rights after the Scottish government said there was no legal obligation to grant these rights. The NSS has since written to all 32 councils in Scotland to ask them to follow suit.

NSS: Appointing religious reps "gives religion undue influence"

Stephen Evans said: "Shetland councillors are absolutely right to highlight the absurdity of laws requiring religious representatives to sit on local authority education committees.

"Religious representatives should of course be able to feed their views in through the normal democratic process, but their views should not be given any special or institutional weight. Doing so runs counter to democratic principles.

"The law requiring the appointment of religious reps to education committees gives religion undue influence over the education of Scottish children and undermines efforts to make Scotland more inclusive and equal. The Scottish government should repeal it as soon as possible.

"Until such time, councillors across Scotland can limit the influence of this undemocratic law by voting to remove religious appointees' voting rights."

A National Secular Society report in 2019 made the case for removing religious appointees from education committees in Scotland.

Remove religious reps

Scottish law requires education committees to include three religious appointees. Help us change that.

Tags: Faith schools