LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Archbishop Leo Cushley of St. Andrews and Edinburgh has said that a proposal to end voting privileges for religious appointees in a governing council that oversees local education is “another step in a process to remove faith education from schools in Scotland.”
The National Secular Society (NSS) is calling on the council to end the religious appointees, calling the system “undemocratic, unrepresentative and unjustified.”
The majority of schools in Scotland are non-denominational and include Protestant schools. There are also over 360 state-schools affiliated with the Catholic Church.
The vote on religious representatives on the East Lothian council will be held on Friday. Several councils in Scotland have already removed non-elected members, including in Edinburgh, Orkney, Highland, Fife and Stirling.
“No one should be granted a privileged place in local democracy just because of their religion. If Scotland is to be a country where all citizens irrespective of background have an equal chance to participate in decision-making, it cannot give select groups a privileged role,” said Megan Manson, NSS head of campaigns.
“While it remains a legal duty to appoint religious representatives, councils should exercise their power to remove the voting privileges of religious appointees. Increasing numbers of councils are questioning the archaic requirement to appoint religious representatives; this year alone, five voted to remove their voting powers. We urge East Lothian Council to follow suit,” she told the East Lothian Courier.
The current committee is made up of 12 elected members and three unelected members: Father Gerry Sheridan from the Catholic Church, Mr. Ray Lesso from the Church of Scotland, and trade union representative Gael Gillan.
A Church of Scotland spokesperson told the Courier that the Church has “a distinctive call and duty to every person in Scotland, whether or not they are Christian or a member.”
“Through our extensive provision of youth and children’s workers, the care and dedication of school chaplains and our comprehensive safeguarding policies and culture, we always put the welfare of children and young people first,” the representative said.
“Church representatives have a wealth of expertise and experience and seek to be good community partners and offer support and encouragement. Very few matters come to a vote and our representatives do not usually choose to vote on matters of policy or of a political nature,” the representative added.
Cushley told the newspaper that church representatives “are valuable members of local authority education committees and their position is enshrined in law.”
“To deprive them of voting rights, when they represent both the Catholic Church and families, of all faiths and none, who make an active choice of Catholic education, will cause local constituents to question the commitment of East Lothian Council to the future of Catholic schools,” the archbishop said.
A council spokesperson said the Friday consultation will “gather a wide range of views and we would encourage people to take part via our online hub.”
“The results of the consultation will be subject to a future report to council at which elected members will decide on the matter,” the spokesperson added.