Should faith schools be allowed to discriminate?


by Rumbold
28th November, 2007 at 5:32 pm    

A faith school was forced to change its admissions policy yesterday for fear that it breached anti-discrimination laws:

“The Jewish Free School (JFS) in London has removed from its admissions criteria a clause favoring ethnically Jewish children after the school was accused of breaking state anti-discrimination laws, The Guardian reported on Wednesday.

According to the report, the top Jewish state school was accused of discrimination after it denied a place to a child who did not meet the definition of Jewish set by Britain’s Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.

Sacks, who is the school’s religious authority, had stipulated that applicants must have an ethnically Jewish mother in order to be accepted into the school. The mother of the child in question, who heads the school’s English department, had converted to Judaism under supervision of Israel’s chief rabbi.”

While this was an intra-religious dispute, is does raise the question of how far such schools should be allowed to decide their own policy on these matters.

“Following the accusation, chief schools arbitrator Philip Hunter ruled that the JFS had not violated race relation laws as it was following religious, rather than racial, criteria.

Nevertheless, he ordered the school to remove from its admissions rules a sub-clause giving preference to children with at least one Jewish parent or grandparent, calling it “indirectly discriminating,” The Guardian said.”

Religious schools are generally popular with parents because they are seen as creating a good learning environment for children. Should parents be denied this option if they want it? Nor is the religion of the school necessarily imprinted on the child. I went to a Church of England primary and did not leave it a Church of England boy, and plenty of my friends were non-religious.

However, I can see some sense in the opposing point of view. Children do usually benefit from mixing with children from other religions, since such religions then do not seem quite so alien in later life. A religious school might put more pressure on its pupils to behave in a particular way, and some faith schools are susceptible to extremist teachings and ideology.


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  1. SajiniW — on 28th November, 2007 at 5:56 pm  

    I agree with your last paragraph, R – mixing with just the one ethnic group leads to insular views, ignorance and paranoia.

  2. Keith — on 28th November, 2007 at 6:22 pm  

    Under UK law, discrimination on ethnic grounds is unacceptable in any institution whatsoever. The school was breaking the law.

    More broadly, to answer the headline question, organisations are not allowed under UK law, nor should the be allowed, to discriminate on religious grounds because we have established that religious discrimination violates natural law.

    This of course calls an even broader question into view – should religious schools be allowed at all. My answer is that they may provide schooling, but the nature of it and the curriculum followed should strictly follow national regulations which prohibit indoctrination of any kind.

    A few religious organisations might then conclude that there is no point to running schools. Hard luck.

  3. Pistol Pete — on 28th November, 2007 at 7:17 pm  

    If the school is publically funded, they should be open to all faiths. If not, they have the right to be selective. Keith’s question above is rather ominous – “should religious schools be allowed at all”? What a scary world it would be if parents had no choice but to send their kids to government-run schools which indoctrinate in their own peculiar way.

  4. douglas clark — on 28th November, 2007 at 7:56 pm  

    Rumbold,

    What the more militant atheists say is that the State is subsidising parents in the indoctrination of their children with all manner of gobbledegook, which is detrimental to society at large. Which is, as you will appreciate, the exact opposite of what Pistol Pete is saying.

    Parents seem to think they have a right to inflict religion on their children, through any and all means possible. He is seeing it as a parental freedom, or more exactly, a right. Others are arguing that it is, in fact, brainwashing.

    Personally I think religion should be out of schools. There are 168 hours in a week, and if schools have children for circa 35 of them then the rest of the time the parents can mess with their heads as much as they want to, simply on the basis that there isn’t a dam’ thing we can do about it.

  5. douglas clark — on 28th November, 2007 at 10:14 pm  

    Sofia,

    I’m as surely unhappy with an Imperialist History as I suspect you are. But I do think it is entirely reasonable that we all speak a common language and are brought up to understand why the rule of law, democracy and individual freedoms’ are, if not exant, at least things to be aspired to. Please don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    Anyway, I’d agree about the confusion. What, exactly, is the definition of an inclusive faith school? One run by Jesuits and attended by everyone? I think that idea needs further work.

  6. Matt — on 28th November, 2007 at 10:36 pm  

    PP>If the school is publically funded, they should be open to all faiths.

    Those who support faith schools have as much right to determine how the state spend their taxes as anyone else. If they wish to have a particular type of school, who is anyone else to tell them that they should not be free to have their education taxes spent as they choose?

    By all means let those with no faith demand that their taxes be spent on “secular” schools, but those who do have a faith should have exactly the same right – assuming that we believe in equuality.

    The logic of that is that the mix of the education system should roughly reflect the wishes of the population, subject to a reasonable national curriculum etc.

    ISTM that no one has the right to determine what *everyone* must do – including those who do not like faith-based schools.

  7. Dave — on 28th November, 2007 at 10:52 pm  

    Faith schools which are state-funded should not be able to exclude pupils on the grounds of religion; public money should not be spent in such a way as to favour people of one religious group over another in the provision of any social benefit, including education.

    However, private faith schools should be allowed to have whatever admissions policies they choose. It’s an essential tenet of freedom that schools in the private sector should be able to run themselves, with minimal interference from the government.

    I think it’s legitimate for the Jewish Free School to give priority to students who have an ethnically Jewish mother, but if there are places left, they should not deny them to students who don’t fit that criterion. If they can’t accept this, then they should refuse state funding and go into the private sector.

  8. Ravi Naik — on 28th November, 2007 at 11:50 pm  

    In a personal capacity, I favour faith schools, however, these schools must be inclusive and welcome to people of all faith communities.

    That really defeats the purpose of ‘faith school’, isn’t it? If you include people of all faiths, then the school must adhere to a strict secular teaching or risk alienating students of other faiths.

    If we agree that schools should accept people of all faiths (or no faith), then we probably shouldn’t have ‘faith schools’ in the first place to teach the national curriculum. Kids should learn to respect diversity at a younger age anyway.

  9. Natty — on 29th November, 2007 at 9:12 am  

    This whole post is slightly unfair. As a faith school the Jewish school has a right to determine who attends their school according to a selection criteria. According to the law the criteria needed to be adjusted and the school has agreed to that. So my question is why then does this whole episode need to be whipped up into something it isn’t?

    The school has agreed to adjust that is the end of the matter.

    Saying that Faith Schools are less liekly to promote integration is utter nonsense and there is frankly no evidence of this. Faith schools promote the same activities and ciriculum as state schools.

    Ate State Schools pupils from different ethnic and social backgrounds may not mix with each other. What guarantee do you have that a rich white child and a poor white child will mix? None.

    In general Asian children will mix with Asian children, African with African and then Asian. White with White. That is the general trend so it is utter rubbish to say that state schools promote mixing they don’t. Do teachers enforce children playing with each other – No.

    Joy1 – You say you are a Muslim, if indeed you were you would know that the passages being used do not call all Jews apes and monkeys as the right wing press claim. The verses refer to specific people who were turned into Apes and Monkeys for fishing on the sabbath and thus depriving the rest of their own Jewish community food. The right wing have taken the verses out of context and whipped up people. This was clearly discussed on Newsnight. There are passages in the Old Testament that also speak of Gods punishment. The point is people are overreacting.

    I think people need to understand that it is very easy to take things otu of context and follow the righst agenda. The main issue is Muslims are very poor as explaining these issues and hence the right wing effectively gets away with lying which in itself is despicable.

    I myself have heard a Jewish Rabbi expalin the verse about not taking Jews and Christians as freinds, in fact he said it says confidantes and this advice relates to times of war so that a Muslim does not give away a secret and place pressure on the friendship. The Rabbi who is quite famous explained at a public meeting that he had read effectively what the right was saying as was troubled by the verse. But the Rabi went to the effort of finding out the true meaning of the verse and when he did he said it made perfect sense to him and he didn’t have a problem.

    What I am trying to highlight is that the right is using verses out of context for their own agenda.

    Similarly the right wing think tank which said there were extremist books – one of the books was The Woman of Hell – but what they didn’t mention was this is part of a series which contains The Women of Heaven, The Rightous Husband etc.

    Thus the right wing think tank was to a degree dishonest by not illustrating the book was part of a series and referred to morality.

    Religion is to teach right and wrong. All Abrahamic religions have such teachings. Indeed in Christianity itself if you don’t believe in the Salvation of Jesus you are going to hell, but this isn’t an extremist position but a Muslim book saying that some women who behave in a certain way will go to hell is. That is a double standard.

    I wonder if the same right wing think tank will now say The Chief Rabbi is promoting extremism for saying some children may not be Jewish. They wouldn’t dare.

    But equally it would take the Chief Rabbi’s position out of context and I think the whole episode is unsavoury and the school and the position of the Chief Rabbi is being unfairly used to whip up hysteria against religion.

  10. Kismet Hardy — on 29th November, 2007 at 9:46 am  

    Should faith schools be allowed?

    No.

    Hey preacher! Leave our kids alone

  11. Shuggy — on 29th November, 2007 at 10:04 am  

    “Hey preacher! Leave our kids alone”

    That’s very good.

    “Should parents be denied this option if they want it?”

    No – but they should pay for it themselves. I don’t see why I should pay for schools that would exclude my son on the grounds of religion – or lack of it, in his case.

  12. douglas clark — on 29th November, 2007 at 11:15 am  

    Rumbold,

    So, as you can see, no-one addresses the childs’ right to not be indoctrinated, which is an issue whether the parents can afford to send their child to some private religious establishment or not. And so we sleepwalk into educational and religious apartheid. How quaint that a childs’ mind is still the property of it’s parents.

  13. douglas clark — on 29th November, 2007 at 11:58 am  

    Sofia @ 26,

    I don’t know what to say. I explained in my post, 13, that I don’t agree with he/she/it’s way of conducting a discussion. Joy1 seemed to reply to me at post 15, and, to be frank my post at 17 was directed at trying to re-rail the thread.

    If you read Joy1′s post at 15 again, it makes no reference to you, which is why I said what I said. Post 9 was ridiculously OTT, on that we are agreed.

  14. bananabrain — on 29th November, 2007 at 12:24 pm  

    i’m quite busy today but i thought this was worthy of comment. this particular issue has been going on for some time and your post actually confuses the facts. the issue is not about whether the mother is “ethnically jewish” or not. this is not rabbi sacks’ issue. his issue is about the validity of the mother’s conversion. the lady in question does not by all accounts live a religious lifestyle, which, for a convert, could cause the validity of her conversion to be called into question. rabbi sacks is not the real authority on this matter, in which he defers to the head of the london beth din or religous court, who is the strictest in the world. consequently, this leads to a situation where a conversion of the israeli chief rabbinate (!) is not considered valid in the UK. most people think this is pretty ridiculous and hardline, but matters are not helped by the fact of the lady in question not sticking to what she undertook to do when she converted. a convert is not discriminated against in jewish law on ethnic grounds.

    now, as to the school in question, all jewish schools in the UK are massively oversubscribed, which means that all policy about priority is almost entirely academic. the issue has arisen because the admissions policy says “in the event of a question, what the chief rabbi says goes” – and chiefy (sacks) is under the thumb of the fundies on this particular matter.

    *if* there was an over-supply of places, the policy would undoubtedly be relaxed, as it has been in king david school in liverpool, which is a jewish school which a lot of non-jews go to. as it is, it’s a sellers’ market and consequently they are free to be as hardline about it as they like, because there is no shortage of qualified applicants. as to the general point of principle, whether faith schools should be open to everyone, i think, personally, that it would be much better, but the fact is that in the jewish community the demand is so out of kilter with supply and in hock to the most strictly religious that things like this happen all the time. let me tell you, you don’t know the half of it when it comes to crazy demands on dress codes (including for au pairs) and questionnaires requesting clarification on matters of “hashkafa” or lifestyle in extremely personal areas. it puts many parents off jewish schools entirely – but the fact is that the demand is so huge because the competition for all the schools in jewish areas is horrendous; some parents will use any advantage to secure a place at whatever school – goodness knows me and mrs banana have had to do so.

    b’shalom

    bananabrain

  15. Rumbold — on 29th November, 2007 at 12:43 pm  

    Douglas:

    “Personally I think religion should be out of schools. There are 168 hours in a week, and if schools have children for circa 35 of them then the rest of the time the parents can mess with their heads as much as they want to, simply on the basis that there isn’t a dam’ thing we can do about it.”

    I do regard that as probably one of the best arguments for not having faith schools.

    Natty:

    “This whole post is slightly unfair. As a faith school the Jewish school has a right to determine who attends their school according to a selection criteria. According to the law the criteria needed to be adjusted and the school has agreed to that. So my question is why then does this whole episode need to be whipped up into something it isn’t?

    The school has agreed to adjust that is the end of the matter.”

    I was using this incident to initiate a more general discussion about the rights of faith schools to discriminate on the basis of religion. If you read the post, you will find I did not condemn the school, but merely raised a few salient points.

    Bananabrain:

    “I’m quite busy today but i thought this was worthy of comment. this particular issue has been going on for some time and your post actually confuses the facts. the issue is not about whether the mother is “ethnically jewish” or not. this is not rabbi sacks’ issue. his issue is about the validity of the mother’s conversion. the lady in question does not by all accounts live a religious lifestyle, which, for a convert, could cause the validity of her conversion to be called into question. rabbi sacks is not the real authority on this matter, in which he defers to the head of the london beth din or religous court, who is the strictest in the world. consequently, this leads to a situation where a conversion of the israeli chief rabbinate (!) is not considered valid in the UK.”

    My post does not confuse the facts. I noted that this was an intra-religious dispute, and quoted the relevent bits to show that the issue was about Rabbi Sacks’ definition of Judaism.

  16. Guessedworker — on 29th November, 2007 at 2:13 pm  

    “Children do usually benefit from mixing with children from other religions, since such religions then do not seem quite so alien in later life.”

    It’s not the religion, it’s the aliens that are alien in later life.

    On the case in question, Phillip Hunter is quite wrong.

    For the sake of clarity, JFS’s rule is racial if it is ethnically exclusive, which it is, and religio-cultural if it is not.

    There is the whiff of a backroom deal about this affair: “Oh, Mr Hunter, don’t tell the world we are racists and we proimise we’ll change the rule.”

  17. Shuggy — on 29th November, 2007 at 2:18 pm  

    I was using this incident to initiate a more general discussion about the rights of faith schools to discriminate on the basis of religion

    It would seem to be inherent in the idea of a ‘faith school’ that they will always discriminate in some way against those either of another faith or those who have none. Laws stipulating they have to take a certain quota from outside their confessional group aren’t going to change this fundamental fact.

    One point that never seems to be raised in this context is the way in which state-funded religious schools can discriminate against staff that are not of the faith.

  18. The Common Humanist — on 29th November, 2007 at 2:47 pm  

    @ Natty 19,

    I hear what you are getting at regarding nuance and standards in religious discourse.

    However, a couple of points:
    1. Literalism – fringe in Christianity and Jewdaism. Mainstream in Islam.

    Result – nuance and understanding of the Koran by Muslims and Non Muslims tends not to see the aspects of verse you are talking about.

    Many muslims seem to have the same interpretation of the Koran as the Right Wing Media……possibly they are right and you are putting the best face on bad text?

    2. Muslims do a horrendous job of explaining this nuance, should it be relevant. Partly this is the medias job (you know the drill, call a islamist nutter we have a islamic story. Like a calling a Neo Nazi to discuss supply side economics!)

    Is this because most muslims don’t see the ‘nuance’ or ‘true’ reasoning? Do they prefer the ‘right wing’ interpretation?

    The above point causes enormous concern for non muslims.

    Did anyone see Newsnight last night? Inayat Bunglawayla did a fine job (never thought I’d say that! Mind you, he is usually drumming up justifications for terrorism and femaphobia but still) of demolishing the chap from the Sudanese Gov’t who was attempting to justify the Sudanese Govts actions in relation to the Mo’Teddy Affair?

    Inayats basic point was that a childs attempt to honour Mo’ had been turned by the Islamists in the Sudanese Govt into something that, yet again, makes Islam look sinister, coercive and violent to an awful lot of non-muslims.

  19. Natty — on 30th November, 2007 at 7:32 pm  

    TCH – However, a couple of points:
    1. Literalism – fringe in Christianity and Jewdaism. Mainstream in Islam.

    Are you serious?

    So for example how do you example in SE Asia
    Christians actually going to the extent they crucify themselves of literalism is a fringe.

    How do you explain Christians using the bible to push foreign policy in the USA? They are taking a literal stance on what the bible says and have decided Judeo-Christian equals Good and Islam equals Bad and thus the war stated in the bible between good and evil is on.

    This is the biggest literal interpretation of any religion and has significant implications for humanity.

    If literalism is a fringe in Christianity and Judaism then why do so many Christians believe that Israel shouldn’t give an inch of land for peace. So serious is this literal approach you claim they don’t take, that it affects US Foreign Policy.

    The claim made is sheer nonsense.

    Christian groups have built a Genesis Museum to show that the bible is correct in its version of creation, this has been built at a cost of $25 million+ and it is a literal interpretation of the bible.

    US Generals as we have seen make a literal interpretation of the bible when speaking.

    Yet you say it is a fringe. Well TCH the fringe is so big it is the majority.

    Even in the Catholic Church they do literally believe in the literal. Priests no marrying – Literal and affects people everyday.

    The concept of Salvation is literal.

    The list can go on but this crass argument that continually crops up from people is just plain false.

    There are verses of the bible that are similar to the verses of the Qur’an you object to.

    In the USA some Christians kill doctors who perform abortion and this is from a literal view of the bible which you claim they don’t have. So try telling that to the grieving families of the people killed.

    Alan Dershowitchs says clearly that the USA Law is built upon biblical law, and its foundatiosn are the ten commandments. Professor of Law at Harvard saying that and you say they don’t have a literal understanding.

    The point is the media and society make you believe that literalism isn’t part of biblical thinkign when in fact it shapes world events.

    Turkey is having a difficult time because those who push Judeo-Christian dominance don’t want Turkey in Europe. That is literal as they want to maintain their dominion.

    Try telling Christian women in South America who want an abortion that their religion doesn’t follow literalism.

    Sheeesh what a myth.

  20. Red Maria — on 10th December, 2007 at 12:21 am  

    As made abundantly clear in the post above, there’s something about religion threads which bring out the dumber kind of commentator. I think its something to do with the current state of anti-religious bullying, which goes by the name of “secularism”, with its deliberate misrepresentations of religious doctrine and practice, its simplify-simplify-simplify, exaggerate style of argument, its ugly tendency to smear opponents rather than debate them honestly that encourages unreason and ignorance.
    So I don’t suppose it’s worth pointing out that those who oppose the very existence of faith schools and noisily insist that they be prevented from expanding are hardly in a position to complain when faith schools are forced to make discriminating decisions about applicants. Quite frankly it’s the fault of the anti-religious that faith schools have to discriminate at all. If the anti-religious really cared about discrimation (which they self-evidently don’t) they’d agitate for a massive expansion in faith schools so that supply could meet demonstrable demand.

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