Chairman of East London Humanists Paul Kaufman on the discrimination created by faith-based schools

Paul Kaufman

Paul Kaufman - Credit: Archant

Just imagine if your child was refused treatment by your local NHS doctor for being the wrong religion or for having no religious belief. Would you put up with such discrimination? Yet each year state funded faith schools turn children away solely on religious grounds.

A number of schools in East London use faith-based admission procedures. They exercise a power to discriminate which in most other areas of public life is rightly outlawed.

For many parents a school’s admission policy denies them the right to choose that school for their child.

For others it is an incentive to feign religious belief in the hope their child will get in.

The British Humanist Association is one of many groups and individuals who support the Fair Admissions Campaign launched this June ( ).

The aim is to end religious selection.

Humanist beliefs are not of course based on religion.

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However the campaign enjoys a broad range of support including groups and individuals representing most of the major faiths.

Supporters share the belief that religious selection is not only unfair but is also divisive.

Separating children at the school gate based on their religion is not the way to teach them about an inclusive society. It teaches that their differences are more important than their similarities.

Religious division has been the cause of strife throughout history. It is often most bitter between people of the same faith. Northern Ireland is just one example.

By chance, as our campaign was being launched, President Obama spoke to 2000 children at a non-segregated school on his way to the G8 summit. In a passionate call to end segregated schooling he said; “If towns remain divided – if Catholics have their schools and buildings, and Protestants have theirs – if we can’t see ourselves in one another, if fear or resentment are allowed to harden, that encourages division. It discourages cooperation.’

Our practice of religious selection is almost unique in Europe. Obama, from a country with a long history of discrimination and division, is well placed to see just how out-dated and wrong it is.