Letter: Religious education offers a touchstone for faith

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The Independent Online
Sir: I am grateful to Angela Phillips for taking the trouble to write to me personally (Open Letter, 31 January), although I am afraid that in so doing she has failed to recognise the contribution of many other people to the legislative requirement that, with certain exceptions, all pupils take part in a daily act of worship 'of a broadly Christian character'. Perhaps there has been no 'tabloid campaign ridiculing' me for my 'political correctness' because the views I represent are widely held by people throughout the country - not only by Christians, but also by many of those of other faiths and none.

The provisions of the Education Reform Act are designed to do precisely what Ms Phillips claims she wants: to respect the rights of different faith communities by respecting the integrity of each faith. The great majority of people in this country (80 to 90 per cent) describe themselves as Christian, and 63 per cent see themselves as belonging to a Christian denomination. There is a widespread desire by parents, including those who are not regular churchgoers, for their children to have opportunities to learn about Christianity, and to experience Christian worship, as the main spiritual and cultural heritage of this land. This wish is also shared by many parents of other faiths.

Research has shown that many of our young people were leaving school disturbingly ignorant of the barest essentials of Christianity. For example, some surveys showed that approximately two-thirds could not describe the significance of Good Friday; and other studies showed that they could not name the four Gospels or the disciples. Many people were deeply worried by this failure to pass on even an elementary understanding of Christianity, because without this it is impossible to understand our country's history, culture, art, literature, music and social institutions. Those who shared this worry included many from other faiths, including the former and present Chief Rabbi and prominent Muslim leaders.

This legislation also respects, for the first time in history, the rights of other faith communities to have RE and worship according to their own religious traditions; and it makes provisions for the small but important number of schools with multi-faith pupil populations to determine their own arrangements to reflect and respect the wishes of their parents. Additionally, there is always the right to withdraw from any RE or worship. Such withdrawal, if provided with sensitivity, need not be a negative experience, as the former Chief Rabbi has confirmed in a debate in the House of Lords.

No one is seeking to 'impose' anything; merely to give our younger generation the right to become familiar with this country's spiritual and cultural heritage, as well as with some of the other major world religions. They will then have knowledge and experience as a basis on which to choose whether they wish to pursue their exploration of faith - or not.

Yours faithfully,


House of Lords

London, SW1

1 February