Last time I looked, the UK was not simply a constitutional monarchy, but one in which the Head of State and the head of the official state church are united in the one person. That state of affairs is underpinned by an act of settlement. It is not, yet, a secular Republic.
In France the school system is rigourously secular. There is a popular church system, but it is private. In the Guardian, David Pavett approvingly quotes Peter Robinson’s call for an end to the funding of church run schools, which in NI simply means Catholic ones:
Churches should be free to run their own schools, Robinson said, but not on the basis of state funding. Meanwhile, back in mainland UK, we have to wonder where the leading politicians are who are prepared to speak so frankly about the consequences of the state funding of faith schools. Michael Gove’s contribution is to encourage faith schools to seek academy status to avoid “meddling” by secularists. His latest initiative is to send a copy of the King James Bible, with a foreword by himself, to every state school. All our main political parties support faith schools and will accept or encourage more of them.
The defenders of faith schools say that placing children in separate religious institutions for their school years will not help to foster sectarian attitudes. We are told that faith schools organise events in which children will meet others from different faiths. This is just not serious. Nothing can replace what is learned by rubbing shoulders and getting along with others from diverse backgrounds on a daily basis.
The act of settlement may not provide direct protections in law for the Catholic school system, but the quasi religious nature of the UK state at least provides a constitutional justification for the provision of state money for religious institutions.
Given his robust defence of the Act of Settlement a few weeks back, it might be interesting to hear what Jeffrey Donaldson has to say on the matter?
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty