The British Humanist Association (BHA) has responded to new policy announcements by the UK government formed last week. The BHA welcomed the commitment to human rights outlined in a major speech by new Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, but expressed “surprise and disappointment” with the new government’s pledge to create more state-funded religious schools.
Commenting on the deputy prime minister’s “Big Bang” speech on the Government’s intended legal, social and political reforms, Andrew Copson, BHA chief executive, said, “Much in this new Government statement accords with the BHA’s policies we set out in our own manifestos ahead of the election and with the principles of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
“We particularly welcome moves to increase freedom of speech, and a reformed House of Lords which, by being fully elected, would necessarily remove the right of Bishops to sit in our second chamber. We also look forward to making our case for the repeal and revision of unjust, restrictive and discriminatory laws, such as those which require compulsory worship on our school children – a clear violation of their freedom of conscience – and those which unfairly restrict the right to free speech and protest.”
However, the day after the Deputy Prime Minister’s speech, the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition announced that it will “work with faith groups to enable more faith schools”. Responding for the BHA, Andrew Copson said, “The Labour government was the first ever government to seek to increase the number and diversity of state-funded religious schools – a policy that was totally out of step with public opinion, social justice and sound educational principles. It is astonishing that the coalition government should maintain one of Labour’s most unpopular policies. 72% of people believe that state funded schools should not discriminate on grounds of religion or belief and 42% of people think there should be no more state-funded faith schools at all.”