New party policy on religion in schools
By Toby Keynes
The Liberal Democrats have called for an end to the existing obligation for all state schools to hold acts of collective worship, and for non-religious schools to hold acts of worship of a broadly Christian character.
The party has also reaffirmed its existing policy to ban state faith schools from discriminating on religious grounds in the employment of any school staff, except for staff who are responsible for religious instruction.
The party voted against a proposal to ban state faith schools from selecting students by faith, phased in over a five-year period, but a review of party policy on faith school admissions is now very likely.
The changes were voted on by party members during the Liberal Democrat Party Conference, as an amendment to the Equalities motion, after a debate that was dominated by the proposal on faith school admissions.
The amendment had been submitted by HSLD, and was proposed and summated during the debate by HSLD co-presidents Dr Evan Harris and Julian Huppert MP.
Summing up for the amendment, Julian Huppert said:
"It cannot surely be right that state-funded teachers are chosen because of their faith, unless what they're doing is about that faith. Now of course, the school rabbi can be Jewish, the school priest can be Christian, the school imam can be Muslim - that's fine. But why should the English literature teacher have the same faith as other teachers at the school; why the maths teacher; why the science teacher. This is party policy I would urge you to continue with.
"Why should there be a law to require to require all schools - all schools, conference - to hold acts of collective worship? We don't require anybody else necessarily to partake in religious activity; why should we require children to do so? And the amendment doesn't ban people from having this; schools may do this if they want to, groups of pupils can, we're not suggesting the US situation: people who wish to pray and to wish to sing each morning can do so, but why should everybody else have to do so as well?
The debate, including all the speeches on amendment 3, can be viewed at http://www.libdems.org.uk/f27_expanding_opportunity_unlocking_potential
The amendment, as approved, reads:
"c) Ending the opt-out from employment and equalities legislation from staff in faith schools, except those responsible for religious instruction.
"d) Repealing the existing legal requirement for all state-funded schools to hold acts of collective worship, and for non-religious schools to hold acts of worship of a broadly Christian character."