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Education Secretary argues ‘this is a Christian country’ as he defends decision to open new 100% selective faith schools

Education Secretary Damian Hinds.

In an interview with ConservativeHome in which he has defended the decision to allow new 100% religiously selective state schools to open, Education Secretary Damian Hinds argued that the UK is a Christian country and used this to justify Christianity’s prominent role in British politics. Humanists UK has expressed alarm at someone who is responsible for overseeing the education of England’s children acting in such a partial manner.

Asked about the role of Christianity in government and politics, Hinds stated flatly:

‘This is a Christian country… it still has, at the core of its institutions, traditions which are rooted in the Judaeo-Christian tradition.

‘And in Parliament you find – I’ve never actually done the maths, but it’s always felt to me that there’s a disproportionate number of people of some religious faith. Not necessarily Christian, but some religious faith. We start every day with Prayers…’

Hinds’ predecessor as Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, previously stated her role as an MP was principally ‘to remember the Word of God and serve the Lord’. Hinds says his views go ‘further’ than his predecessor. His comments also echo those of former Prime Minister David Cameron, who in 2014 came in for widespread criticism when he called for Britain to be recognised as a Christian country.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson responded:

‘It is alarming that the man in charge of the nation’s schools should take such a partial view of society. Ours is not a Christian country in anything other than a formal and narrow constitutional sense.

‘Of course our culture has been shaped in many ways by Christians, but it has as many pre-Christian, non-Christian, and post-Christian influences. Today we are a diverse society where most people are not Christians in any way: they neither believe, practice, or identify as such.

‘When it comes to our schools, most children in them are not Christians, and neither are their parents. Rather than preaching the virtues of his religion, Mr Hinds should focus on reforming our school system, with its archaic and discriminatory religious admissions policies and unbalanced RE curriculum, to reflect modern reality.’

Hinds has previously faced criticism for his cosy relationship with the Catholic Church, coming under scrutiny in 2018 for his office’s decision to accept funding from the Church. As a backbench MP, he was one of few to argue for allowing 100% religious selection in schools, at a time when the Conservative-led Government supported the 50% cap. He was later appointed as Education Secretary by Theresa May in a 2018 reshuffle, after Justine Greening chose not to back the Prime Minister’s pledge to permit total religious selection in schools.

In the interview, Hinds defends this decision to go back on the cap on religious selection, saying ‘There was one large denomination which did not feel able to open free schools, which was the Catholic Church. And I was keen that every denomination should be able to open new schools.’ This claim from the Catholic Education Service has been comprehensively debunked by Humanists UK.

Notes

For further contact or information, please contact Humanist UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson on richy@humanism.org.uk or 0781 55 89 636.

The latest British Social Attitudes Survey finds that 52% of the population have no religion, rising to 70% of 18-24 year olds. On other measures, the population is even less religious still. Less than 5% of the population attend a church on any given week, around a quarter believe in core Christian tenets about Jesus being the son of God and about the crucifixion, and just 29% say religion is in any sense important in their lives.

While a third of state schools are religious, only 9% of the population consider religion to be an important factor when picking which schools to send their children to. 80% of the population, including 79% of Anglicans and 67% of Catholics, are opposed to lifting the faith-based admissions cap.

Read Damian Hinds’ interview: https://www.conservativehome.com/highlights/2019/02/interview-look-this-is-a-christian-country-says-hinds-but-he-adds-that-the-cap-on-faith-school-admissions-should-stay.html

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

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