Banning the Gideons from state schools (not an April Fool)
It transpires that the head teachers of the Abbot Beyne School and Paget High School near Burton On Trent in Staffordshire have decided that the dispensing of God’s Word ‘may spark complaints from different faiths’. They have, of course, received none: once again, we have the over-zealous, politically-correct invocation of multicultural sensitivities intervening to prevent a distinctly remote possibility if not a highly unlikely probability.
Maggie Tate, deputy head teacher of Abbot Beyne, said: “The reason we stopped the Gideons coming in is that we are a comprehensive multi-faith school. We felt it was inappropriate to allow one faith group to distribute material in school.”
Well, Ms Tate, His Grace has got a bit of news for you. This is not the United States of America: we have an Established Church. It is insufficient for you to be giving ‘moral-themed assemblies’ and your boast that your school has ‘the highest proportion of pupils in Staffordshire sitting GCSEs in religious education’ is irrelevant. The law (Educations Acts of 1944, 1988 and 2006) requires you hold a daily act of collective worship which is ‘broadly Christian’. While ‘moral-themed’ may indeed constitute that which is ‘broadly Christian’, your prohibitive edict on the Gideons suggests that your understanding of the law as it relates to Religious Education is flawed. You are required by statute to give primacy to the Christian faith in order ‘to reflect the history, traditions and majority make-up of the country’ (Education Acts of 1988, 1996 and 1998). By banning the free distribution of the New Testament, and by censoring the gospel message of the Gideons, your contempt for the history, traditions and majority make-up of the country is manifest.
Don Smith, the head teacher of Paget High School, said: “As a non-denominational school we do not allow any religious groups to come in and give out literature. If we allowed the Gideons into school then we would have to allow other groups too. While we teach pupils about different religions, we do not want people coming in to the school and pushing their own religious views.”
The allegation that they’d have to let in every Tom Dick or Harry Krishna is a straw man: no other religion is known for distributing free text books en masse to the nation’s schoolchildren. Mr Smith is being utterly myopic in his view that by letting in one group they have to open the floodgates: the Gideons are not Hizb-ut-Tahrir. And if he believes, as a head teacher, that he has no right to discriminate between groups seeking access to the minds of the children in his care, his discernment is poor. But what would it matter if other groups did bring in free literature? Why can’t such books and pamphlets constitute resources in the nation’s impoverished RE departments? Why can’t they be used to stimulate discussion and critical debate? Why not let the students ridicule, criticise, reflect, consider and decide for themselves what they want to send to Room 101, instead of instituting a draconian blanket ban upon everyone?
But we read in Don Smith’s statement a hint of the old chestnut of multicultural ‘neutrality’. He says: “...we do not want people coming in to the school and pushing their own religious views.”
But it’s perfectly in order for him to forge a ‘multicultural’ ethos and inculcate his staff to induct children into his personal spiritual worldview, despite the doctrine of state multiculturalism having been criticised by the Chairman of the Equalities Commission and condemned by the Prime Minister.
It is in the nation’s schools that the real battle is being waged for the nation’s soul. Our future depends upon our children. We cannot leave them entirely to secular-minded head teachers and left-leaning teachers, and neither can we devolve entirely control over the curriculum. There is a tension here, but the Church of England’s via media lights the way.