The Let Schools Choose campaign, who are seeking the end of mandatory collective worship in Schools in Northern Ireland gave a presentation to Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council at last night’s meeting.
The presentation was given by their Campaign Coordinator Scott Moore, a 6th form Student currently studying at Strabane Academy.
Scott spoke briefly but passionately about his campaign, quoting the laws that require all grant-aided schools to hold at least one act of collective worship per day.
In short, the campaign does not seek to ban, nor even prevent schools from holding acts of collective worship, rather, it calls for schools to be given a choice in the matter, rather than it being mandated by law.
The Let Schools Choose campaign is backed by the Northern Ireland Humanists, a branch of the British Humanist Association. They are also supported by organisations such as Atheist NI, Atheist Ireland and the National Secular Society
Once the presentation was over, Scott took questions / comments from Councillors, and a small number backed his campaign, including Councillor David Harding, who said that he, as a Christian sees no need to impose his beliefs upon anyone else. Cllr Harding also congratulated Scott for being able to stand up and say something unpopular.
Sinn Fein Councillor Ciaran Mulholland also agreed with Scott and commented on the fact that members are “forced” to sit through a prayer before Council Meetings begin.
However, others were opposed to any change in the current arrangement, including the DUP’s George Duddy, who put a number of questions to Scott, asking him what research had been done into behavioural differences of pupils of Religious schools compared to Non-Religious schools. Councillor Duddy also asked him if he had sought the input of churches since he is “trying to remove Christianity from schools.”
TUV Councillor William Blair likened the campaign to the acts of Hitler, Stalin and Chairman Mao, saying : “I think this is a very early stage here of trying to get Christianity, in particular, out of all schools. Now, we’ve had it all over the whole world and I would be a reader of history. Chairman Mao, Stalin and Hitler – all of them wanted to do away with God and this is just the foot in the door and putting pressure onto young believers.
I have read magazines and all over the world there is a great victimisation for a young person who would have faith in God. I think it is a very bad idea to interfere with a person’s faith.”
Commenting, Scott Moore told Causeway Coast Community : “Most councillors thought I gave a great presentation and were quite welcoming. I had a pretty diverse selection of responses from the Councillors, ranging from strong support from councillors like Ciaran Mulholland and David Harding, but also a lot of apprehension and scepticism, mostly from the DUP and other unionists.
“The unionists generally argued that my campaign was the thin end of the wedge to eliminate Christianity from schools entirely, that I wasn’t engaging the churches enough, and that there was no problem, as a majority of pupils and people across society had not spoken out. Some argued that school assemblies were already balanced, as there was a religious and a non-religious element.
“I have taken onboard the suggestions of councillors, namely Cllr. Duddy, to engage with the churches on this matter. But ultimately, I expect the churches will be opposed to even the most rational and incremental of steps towards greater parity of esteem for non-religious, minority religious and undecided young people, and the campaign will not be stopped in its tracks by those concerned with preserving their strategic self-interest over the greater good for wider society and young people.”
Perhaps the only Councillor who wasn’t overwhelmingly welcoming was Cllr. William Blair of the TUV. Like others, he argued that my campaign was an effort to eliminate Christianity from schools completely. However, he went on to compare my proposal to the efforts of brutal dictators, namely Hitler, Chairman Mao, and Stalin, who all wanted to “do away with God”.
He claimed my proposal would serve to put “pressure upon young believers”, and referred to religious persecution across the world, also implying my proposal would interfere with people’s faith. As before, I think it’s unfortunate he has refused to not indulge in fallacies, but it’s almost unbelievable that an effort to ensure equality for a marginalised minority is being compared to the efforts of those who did the opposite: committing genocide against minorities on the basis of class, culture, religion, disability, ethnicity and political views, murdering millions.
“It’s unfortunate that Cllr. Blair feels the need to be so theatrical about all this – is he threatened by the popular support for my campaign, and the efforts to eliminate religious privilege in our society? It’s one thing comparing me to Hitler – as an activist, you learn to develop a thick skin, and I’m largely not bothered by it. But I think it’s highly disrespectful to misappropriate massive tragedies which had a life-changing and often life-ending impact on millions to score political points – and very ill-considered to conflate the very real religious persecution occurring across the world, ranging from murders to imprisonments to systemic oppression against Christians, with the possibility that collective worship will not be compulsory in schools any more.”
If Cllr. Blair has any integrity, or respect for those who have faced genuine and real religious persecution in the past and present, he will apologise for his remarks, which are clearly in poor taste.”