From Advocatus Diaboli, with Quentin’s permission
My dear Friends
At last, I think, I have found a cause which we can all share.
Many Catholic friends (yes I have some) have told me about the importance they place on two issues. One of these is to encourage a really fair and undiscriminating society in which were are all free to follow our own principles and values, and the other is to work hard for social cohesion.
So you will all be welcoming the new campaign: the Fair Admissions Campaign in England and Wales. As you know it has had tremendous publicity, and its principles are supported by such eminent people as President Obama and Vince Cable and the Christian organisation, Ekklesia.
The first principle is that the State should not spend taxpayers’ money on special interest minorities. The fact of the matter is that faith schools, and I think here of Muslim and Catholic school in particular, are free to refuse pupils places on the discriminating ground that their religious belief, or lack of belief, is not acceptable to the “management”. The Campaign is in no way against religious education, and Muslims and Catholics are quite free to arrange their own schools – and to fund them from their own resources. But there is simply no reason why the public should meet the cost of them doing so.
As a result, many children are unable to obtain a place in a local “religious” school, and are forced to travel considerable distances in order to get their education. In, say, the USA or France such a thing would be unthinkable.
The second issue is social cohesion. We all know that this is vitally important for our society. Yet, often for historical reasons, we have allowed ghetto schools to be supported by the State itself. Does anyone think that it is a good thing, for instance, to allow Muslim children to be brought up in a “ghetto” school and so to be prevented from understanding the culture in which they will have to live their adult life? Do we actually want to preclude integration? And the same principle applies to Catholic schools – just take a look at Northern Ireland and what segregation, effectively from birth, has done there.
There is another reason which applies to Catholic schools. It is a matter of fact that secondary schools without a religious character have up to 30% more pupils eligible for free school meals than the average, while Catholic schools have 20% fewer than the average. Since eligibility for free school meals is an accepted measure of social class this is clearly discriminatory. Of course it has a strong effect on stifling of social mobility. And indeed there is every reason to suspect that the enthusiasm which Catholic have for their subsidised schools owes more to the social advantages than their religious devotion. Incidentally, this also explains why Catholic schools tend to get good academic results.
I realise that it’s a hard thing to ask Catholics either to open their schools freely to all without discrimination, or to withdraw them from the State system. But I am told that Catholics put doing the right thing way ahead of their convenience or even their social advantage. It might well be that the example being shown by Catholics in this way would be the best possible lesson in fairness to teach their children.
Plenty more information on the Campaign at http://fairadmissions.org.uk/