AN unholy row has broken out over calls for religious representatives to be kicked off council education committees.
The Edinburgh Secular Society (ESS) has accused the churches of “religious interference at the heart of local democracy” and said allowing unelected religious representatives full voting rights was damaging to democracy.
It pointed out the places were required by law to be given to church representatives while humanists and people with no religious faith were excluded.
ESS founding member Professor Norman Bonney said: “The legally required appointment of religious nominees to education committees is profoundly undemocratic.
“There has to be a fundamental rethink of these arrangements to ensure that education committee decisions are made by councillors, not by unelected religious reps.”
SNP councillor Sandy Howat said religious reps were “unelected, unaccountable and untenable”.
He said: “All contributions to committee deliberations should be welcomed, yet continued undemocratic privilege of the few over the many is an outdated tradition we should remove.”
The Reverend Thomas Coupar, one of the three religious representatives on Edinburgh’s children and families committee, said he could understand the criticisms.
He said: “It’s a fair enough debate. Do we have a contribution to make? I think we certainly do. Will it always stay this way? I wouldn’t think so.”
But Michael McGrath, director of the Scottish Catholic Education Service, said: “The church’s involvement in education goes back centuries. Schools were first founded by the churches and the existence of church representatives reflects that long-standing connection.”
Rev Sally Foster-Fulton, convener of the Church of Scotland’s church and society council, said there were legitimate questions about why religious representatives served on education committees.
But she said: “I’m disappointed at the suggestion religious reps have a hidden agenda. Instead of having a meaningful debate, we hear a misguided attack on people who give their time in the service of their community.”
A city council spokesman said: “We’re legally obliged to have religious representatives on the committee, and they along with our teacher and parent representatives all make a valuable contribution to the work of the committee.”
AT YOUR SERVICE
EDINBURGH City Council has three church reps on its children and families committee.
They are former teacher Craig Duncan (Church of Scotland); retired Holy Rood RC High School deputy head Marie Allan (Catholic); and the Rev Thomas Coupar, an Episcopalian priest, chaplain at the Thistle Foundation’s Robin Chapel and former headteacher and education adviser.
There are also two teacher representatives and a parents rep, all of whom have full voting rights on education issues.