Church of England argues for preventing parents from stopping their children learning about Islam in schools
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Thursday April 27 2017
The Church of England chief for education, Derek Holloway, has warned that laws allowing children to be exempt from learning about wider religious views – particularly Islam – are ‘dangerous’ and only encourage religious hatred.
Holloway has argued that parents should be banned from pulling their children out of religious education (RE) lessons as this may leave them without the skills required to be part of a diverse society and “live well together as adults.”
Current rules allow parents to exempt their children from RE lessons without having to provide a reason.
Holloway has urged for these rules to be scrapped, commenting that RE, along with every other subject, can help to combat extremism and encourage community relations.
He stated that “there is a need for all pupils from all backgrounds to receive a broad and balanced curriculum that includes high-quality RE.”
He has further cautioned against “fundamentalist” groups who are using human rights legislation to keep children from learning about different world views.
“Sadly and dangerously, the right of withdrawal from RE is now being exploited by a range of ‘interest groups’ often using a dubious interpretation of human rights legislation,” Holloway wrote in a post on the CoE’s Facebook page.
Holloway told the Press Association that “[t]his is seemingly because they do not want their children exposed to other faiths and worldviews, in particular Islam.”
Holloway, who was himself a teacher at comprehensive schools in Essex and Wiltshire, warned the right to withdraw children from RE lessons risks legitimizing those trying to incite religious hatred.
“The right of withdrawal from RE now gives comfort to those who are breaking the law and seeking to incite religious hatred,” he wrote in a post on the Church of England Facebook page.
Besides repealing the right to withdrawal, Holloway said that standardized RE lessons should be introduced to the curriculum.
He argued that the right to withdraw children from RE lessons risks conflating religious teachings with acts of “worship,” thus reinforcing the “myth” that RE lessons are a means of perpetuating the views of a specific religion.
He instead argued that RE lessons contribute to a “broad and balanced curriculum” by giving pupils an outlook on diverse religions and faiths.
Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association (BHA) Andrew Copson has responded to Holloway by stating that faith schools “have specific exemptions from equalities legislation allowing them to deliver faith-based RE.
“We agree with the Church that RE is an important subject, and we agree that parents should not withdraw their children from it unless it is imbalanced or being used to push a particular set of beliefs. But as long as schools, faith-based or otherwise, continue to provide this kind of RE, the right to withdraw remains important in defending children’s freedom of religion and belief.”
Similarly, a spokesman from the National Secular Society has argued that the right to withdraw should be upheld until there is the guarantee that religious teachings are genuinely bias-free.
“If the subject was reformed to be a genuinely educational and non-partisan study of religious and nonreligious world views, the right to withdraw may no longer be necessary.
“But until such time, the right of withdrawal is required to protect parental rights and freedoms.”
He added that faith schools must lose the right to teach RE “from their own, exclusive viewpoint”.
Islamophobia can often be attributed to a lack of knowledge or misinformation. Therefore, allowing children to learn about Islam in an objective manner from within the school curriculum can reduce the misunderstandings that inevitably stem from the information widely propagated by Islamophobic organisations, such as the EDL, Britain First and various neo-atheist websites.