Time to Stand UP!  For Keeping God out of Classrooms! & Fighting for a Secular Europe!

by Azam Kamguian

In my talk, I am going to argue for a secular system of education, for keeping God out of classrooms and for the urgency of fighting for a secular Europe.  

We have all been witnessing that in the recent past decades; European governments have given their strong backing to faith schools and propose to extend the number of faith schools across Europe. From north to south and from east to west, they encourage the opening of new state – sponsored faith schools including Islamic schools.  

Regrettably, in most secular countries and in most atheistic societies where most people are wholly ignorant of their religious observance, this trend is dominant and there is a constant pressure from religion to gain or regain the power and influence that was taken away from them. A whole generation that has never entered a church in their lives, except perhaps to go for a wedding or for a funeral, now is challenged by religion more and more in education, in media and in legislation.  

In the UK there is a state religion unfortunately. Queen, the head of the country is the head of the Church of England, too, and there is an unholy alliance between the church and the state. The Church of England is strongly present in legislation, in media and in education system. One third of schools in the UK are church schools and the Church of England aims to establish a hundred new church schools and to take over 250 other publicly-funded local authority ones. These faith based schools funded by the state and controlled by religious bodies will give them the opportunity to indoctrinate, to brain –wash and to discriminate in favour of their own denominations in selecting pupils, staff and Governors. Another European country; Norway has been particular violator of the liberties of non-religious children and parents. In 1997 Norway introduced a new compulsory syllabus for primary and secondary schools where children are educated overwhelmingly about Lutheran Christianity.  

In September this year, the very first state – funded Islamic school started to work in France, the birthplace of secular education system. This school was set up and funded by French government for girls from Muslim families who resisted the secular education system. This is indeed a serious setback. Long before France, Scandinavian governments have strongly supported and subsidised Islamic schools. Islamic schools are in fact the most powerful child abuse machinery. In Islamic schools, which have been growing fast, children are being treated worth. They are deprived of their social activities such as learning to play music, to swim, to mix freely with each other and to enjoy their life and study. Girls are segregated, subject to mandatory veiling; they are deprived of being playful and happy. In Islamic schools children are alienated and humiliated. They lose their self-esteem. They feel that they have been singled out and are different. Preventing children from enjoying their social and civil rights such as education and participation in social activities is a systematic child abuse and an offence. It particularly isolates girls and makes their lives miserable.  Yet, this apartheid and misery does not stop here. It will extend to the community and to the homes of these innocent children.  

To extend Islamic schools among immigrant communities is a continuation of European Governments’ policy of building a wall of segregation and social apartheid around these communities to separate them from wider and mainstream society, and aims at strengthening the most reactionary elements such as controlling women and girls’ lives, imposing the veil on them, and encouraging forced marriages and honour killings. In this way, the states have allowed Imams and sheiks to speak for the immigrant community. And who doesn’t admit this has hurt most women and children’s basic human rights. Having identified religious leaders as the representatives of the community, governments across the continent aim to give them access to the mind of our children in the hope of silencing the very real demands for integrating to the mainstream of the society and for a better life.  Of course, this couldn’t be done without an ideological justification. Cultural relativism or respecting backward religious and cultural values has been and continues to be a fancy cover for this ugly reality that has been imposed on the immigrant community.  

Education is the transmission of human values and civilisation and preparation of children for complex responsibilities in their future lives. Education for all must guarantee opening doors of opportunity to wider horizons than any child's home environment. Segregated faith schools deprive boys or girls to learn about human values, to internalise these values and to make real choices as they grow up.  

Do faith schools, as it has been claimed, teach tolerance and respect? Or do they insist the sort of sectarian hatred that has some Muslims talking of jihad and some Christians of Crusade; and that has some Protestants spating at children from Catholic parents as they walk to their religious schools? Neither Christian nor other religious schools teach respect for other faiths. Each and every religious school starts to teach its pupils about the superiority of its own belief and the inferiority of others.  

When a school promotes a particular religion as the one true faith, what sort of culture does that engender? How can schools which deny freedom also be reasonably expected to promote it? The situation merely causes a crisis inherent in marrying education and religion. If the youth dangerously get ghettoized based on religion, the growth of Islamic fanaticism in schools is not surprising. In an age and in countries of widespread secularism, it is indeed shameful to force upon children ideologies that the majority of adults have left behind.  

Now, we should deal with another more important issue. Do children have religion? How and in which process they have chosen to be the followers of this or that faith? The truth is that religions are hereditary beliefs and opinions. Children are labelled automatically as followers of this or that faith as soon as they are born and as a result of a blind lottery. The outcome is labelling the child as Muslim, Hindu, Protestant or Catholic, etc. It is not acceptable to do this to children. But, sadly and unfortunately, the society accepts this as a universal standard.  

Children have no faith. They have not joined any religious sect. The fate of children shouldn't be tied to the faith of their parents. Labelling children as followers of religious sects is indeed child abuse. Society should protect children and safeguard their rights. Society is duty bound to protect children from the spiritual manipulation by religions and religious institutions.  

Children should be given the chance to learn, to question and to investigate. The time for children to learn about religion is in later life. They go to school to gain knowledge, not to become vehicle for dogma and superstition. Religion should be completely separated from education. But, quite understandably, the governments deliberately do the opposite. They set up and hugely subsidize religious schools. They prepare the fertile ground for the growth of superstition, fanaticism and religious hatred.  

Secularism is the only answer!

Children should be protected against the transgressions of religion and religious sects on their rights. It is an offence to prevent children from enjoying their social and civil rights such as a secular education, amusement and participation in social activities specific to children.  

Society has the duty to protect children and persons under 16 from all forms of material and spiritual manipulation by religion and religious institutions. Society should guarantee both freedom of religion and atheism. A complete separation of religion from the state guarantees this separation and protects children from manipulation by religions.  

  • Religion must be completely separated from education;

  • Teaching religious subjects and dogmas of religious interpretation of subjects in schools and educational establishments must be prohibited;

  • Any law, regulation or ritual that breaches the principle of secular non – religious education should be abolished;

     

These are the essential and necessary measures to ensure children rights, the health of the next generation and development of the society.  

Faith schools cause deep psychological and physical harm to children. Religious education is indeed child abuse. Society is duty bound to put an end to this systematic child abuse.  

We must keep God out of classrooms!

Now is the time for us to stand up and fight for a secular Europe!    

Adapted from the speech delivered at the 2nd International conference of “Children First”, on 29 & 30 November 2003 in Stockholm – Sweden, and also at a seminar on children rights in Oslo – Norway, on 4 December 2003