Dear Baroness Cox: A reprimand for the Tory peer who wants a stricter line on the Christian content of school assemblies

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Indy Lifestyle Online
I have been waiting now for five years for a tabloid campaign ridiculing you for your political correctness, but it hasn't happened. Indeed, today we can expect a circular from the Department for Education on the content of school assemblies that will make your particular brand of ideological thought compulsory in every maintained school in the country. Your beliefs are to be imposed on every single schoolchild, of whatever faith, political persuasion, or cultural background.

The ideology I refer to is Christianity. It was you who, in your narrow-minded desire for a world that more perfectly reflected your own, insisted on adding a clause to the 1988 Education Reform Act, to the effect that every pupil must take part in a daily act of collective worship which is 'wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character'. Not surprisingly, many multicultural schools have ignored the law. A fact that your fundamentalist thought police have been quick to note and report.

Today's circular is intended to stiffen resolve. Headteachers are expected to be told that collective worship will imply 'reverence or veneration paid to a being or power regarded as supernatural or divine', and that such worship must contain 'some elements which can be related specifically to the traditions of Christian belief, and which accord some special status to the person of Jesus Christ'. The circular is also expected to suggest that schools should keep a record of what they do in case of queries. Against this level of coercion, a one-off decision not to take a bunch of children to the ballet surely pales into insignificance.

I am sure that you would retort that your views are not being imposed because the law allows parents who feel as I do to withdraw their children from collective worship. But do you have any idea what that actually means? I vividly remember sitting outside, with a very small group of non-Christian children, and listening to the sounds of my schoolmates collectively worshipping without me. The message they received was that I was different from them. They knew few Jewish people and my exclusion only served to increase their prejudice against people of other faiths.

No child likes to be picked out and made to feel different. I deliberately chose non-religious schools with a clearly expressed belief in multiculturalism and anti-racism for my children. I am glad they all hear about Diwali and Eid at school assemblies. I was moved that they sang the African National Congress hymn on the day Nelson Mandela was released and I am deeply delighted by the fact that, several times a year, they can participate in an assembly that affirms, and values, their own family faith.

There is one fundamental belief that lies at the heart of moral thinking, be it religious or secular: we should learn to treat others as we would wish them to treat us. Baroness Cox, I believe that means that none of us has the right to impose our own brand of spirituality on anyone else.

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