Letter: Zoroastrians and atheists left out

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The Independent Online
Sir: The principle of national religious education syllabuses (leading article, 10 August) is to be welcomed if it leads to the citizens of our multifaith society acquiring a better understanding of the religious communities around them.

Unfortunately, the consultation process out of which these syllabuses are emerging is proving to be much narrower and less imaginative than one would have wished.

It is to be regretted that, while working parties have been established for the six 'major' religions, it appears that the new syllabuses will ignore other faith groups such as Bahais and Zoroastrians and exclude any reference to the humanist perspective.

Similarly, it is worth asking whether the government-appointed working parties will produce syllabuses that take account of the perspectives of less orthodox groups within the main traditions, such as Quakers and Ahmaddis.

The proposals fail to allay our concern that the main thrust of policy in this area is compliance with the 1988 Education Act, which demands the greatest emphasis to be placed on the teaching of Christianity, thereby downgrading other faiths and discriminating against non-religious world views.

The danger is that artificial directives requiring specified portions of time to be devoted to Christianity will be imposed sooner or later, reducing the scope for flexibility in local situations. This would be particularly inappropriate in areas where large proportions of the population are from other faiths.

A lingering suspicion remains that the Government's main interest is in reviving society's 'dwindling belief in redemption and damnation' rather than educating for tolerance and understanding.

Yours faithfully,

ROY W. SMITH

General Secretary

General Assembly of Unitarian

and Free Christian Churches

London, WC2

10 August

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