British faiths unite in opposing religious studies changes

Controversy is over new curriculum rules due to be introduced this academic year that will force schools to teach about at least two or more religions.

The Big-Ben, London (photo credit: REUTERS)
The Big-Ben, London
(photo credit: REUTERS)
LONDON – Faith leaders across the UK have joined in protest at plans by recently installed Education Secretary Nicky Morgan to shake up religious studies curricula.
The row – which has now been joined by several key government ministers – was triggered at her insistence that, in order to combat Muslim schools teaching just their religion and no others, new curriculum rules due to be introduced this academic year will force all schools to teach students about at least two or more religions.
With all the UK’s state-funded Orthodox Jewish schools currently teaching about Judaism only, Jewish communal leaders led by Britain’s Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis have voiced their concern that if Morgan’s plans are implemented, Jewish schools will be forced to educate pupils on at least one other religion, which most will refuse to even consider.
Morgan has been considering the best way to force Muslim Schools to stop teaching only about Islam in order to halt the effect of brainwashing Muslim children, some of whom – it is increasingly feared – end up being radicalized and in a number of cases even tempted to travel to Syria or Iraq to sign up for combat with jihadists.
Fearing what has been dubbed a ‘Trojan horse’ plot by radical Muslims to take over several of their schools, especially in the predominantly Pakistani populated suburbs of Birmingham, the Department for Education decided to amend the course for the General Certificate for Secondary Education (GCSC) examinations – usually taken by students in the 15 to 16 age range – from what hitherto had stipulated that pupils should study just one ‘world religion,’ usually reflecting their school’s predominant faith, to insist that another religion, preferably Christianity, is taught alongside.
Home Secretary Theresa May has strongly backed the moves as part of her program to ensure the British government takes the necessary measures to stop the spread of extremism, which she feels must include new steps compelling schools to teach “British values” of tolerance.
But Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles has voiced strong objections, arguing that forcing schools to teach other religions “violates religious freedom.” And he used his cabinet weight to bolster objections, especially from Jewish and Catholic leaders.
Jewish community leaders said the plan for forcing religious school students to study another religion besides their own would be the equivalent of forcing German language students to also learn Spanish.
Chief Rabbi Mirvis said that he enthusiastically supports efforts to ensure that British values are taught to all, “but forced changes to the GCSE through which so many learn about their own faith is not the right way to achieve these shared goals.”
Morgan was planning to announce her plans at this coming week’s Conservative Party annual conference in Birmingham, but it is understood in Whitehall that the decision has been delayed following heated protests from various religious groupings and pending a resolution of the cabinet level row with Pickles.
A departmental source hinted at the depth of the objections when they were first proposed to religious leaders.
“Anglicans, Catholics, Muslims, Jews, Hindus – you name it they all hate it!” he was quoted as saying, adding that, “We have managed the near impossible trick of uniting every faith in Britain!” Pickles has reportedly pointed out that should Morgan’s proposals be implemented, it could result in compelling other religious schools to teach students about Islam.
“It will have a knock on effect on the freedom of Catholic and Jewish schools to restrict their teachings to just their faith and preserve their distinctive ethos”.
Prime Minister David Cameron has, according to media sources, expressed his support for the proposal, but is likely to hear communal concerns when he meets with Chief Rabbi Mirvis later this month.