Baroness Turner of Camden
Labour life peer and Vice-President of the BHA
We [humanists] represent a large number of people, and we have a great deal to contribute.
Muriel Turner became a life peer in 1985, and she has been a staunch supporter of humanist and BHA causes in the House of Lords, where she speaks and votes regularly (she voted in 73% of votes in Parliament — well above average amongst Lords).
In a debate on faith communities on 22/10/03, she said:
My Lords, is my noble friend aware that many people with a secular outlook have, nevertheless, a strong social commitment. We care very much about what happens to our fellow citizens. I speak as vice-president of the British Humanist Association. It seems to me that we are not consulted in the same way as faith organisations, and we ought to be. We represent a large number of people, and we have a great deal to contribute.
In a Lords debate on faith schools on 08/02/06 she said:
It is not surprising that the large number of publicly funded Christian schools has led to members of other faiths demanding public funds for their schools. But the requirements of religious leaders should not override the needs of children for an education that opens windows on a wider world. Culture and beliefs can be transmitted at home. There is often a gulf between the religious segregation wanted by older generations and religious leaders and what young people themselves want. That is what the noble Lord, Lord Ouseley, found when he reported on the situation in Bradford. He found inspiring the desire among young people for better education and more social and cultural inter-reaction. They realised that being taught in religious ghettos is not a good preparation for life in a multicultural society. Our Government, however, seem committed to faith schools. We can at least ask that the schools should be non-selective, making their intakes more truly inclusive. Could we not reduce the desire for separate faith schools by making community schools more inclusive and more accommodating?
On 17/10/06, she spoke of the human rights dimension in response to the authoritarian approaches on school worship and religious education currently in favour with the social conservatives. In her speech she said:
Why should a 15 year-old who is mature enough to have the pill or an abortion without parental knowledge not be capable of deciding whether she wants to pray or attend religious education in her state school until she is well over 16 under the government amendment? If the withdrawal from religious education is exercisable by parents, why should it not be for parents considered adults for human rights purposes? Is there a reason why religious education withdrawal should be withheld? We do not think so. Even for schools with a religious ethos, some pupils attend at their parents’ behest, some may simply have been enrolled because there was no other suitable school and some may have changed their mind about whether they wish to attend.
Why should they be forced to attend religious education if they do not wish to? Both the Catholic Education Service and the RE Council have suggested that attendance at a religious school is some kind of package where pupils are obliged to attend worship and presumably religious education — in essence leaving their human rights behind at the school gate. It is hardly as if they will be ignorant of religious matters. They will already have had to sit through 10 years of RE. Religious education is not supposed to be religious instruction…
On 28/10/06 The Times reported: ‘Baroness Turner of Camden, a Labour peer and a vice-president of the British Humanist Association, has written to Lord Adonis, the Education Minister, insisting that “it is unfair and discriminatory for the possibility of religious tests to be introduced by the Government”. It was a “body blow to the thousands of non-religious head teachers and teachers”.’
In July 2001 Baroness Turner was one of the signatories to a letter published in The Independent which urged the Government to reconsider its support for the expansion of maintained religious schools. She is also an Honorary Associate of the Rationalist Association.