Friday, 15 October 2010

Catholic schools should be able to turn down children of unmarried couples, says priest

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Writing in The Tablet, Catholic priest Father Ashley Beck suggests that children of married parents should have priority over the children of unmarried parents in the allocation of places at Catholic schools. After suggesting it is a sensitive issue, he says:
"But if a couple is not in any kind of married relationship, they are not living according to Catholic teaching. Parents in this position should not, as a matter of justice, displace married parents if a school is popular.” 
 That the marital status of parents would even be a concern in relation to a child's school place, and therefore their future prospects, is further evidence of the bizarre impact faith schools have on our state education system (Beck told the Daily Telegraph that in his parish he personally doesn't endorse applications from parents "just casually living together"). Thankfully, a certain degree of sanity does prevail – schools aren't allowed to ask about marital status (it seems Beck would like these restrictions lifted) and, in a letter to The Tablet, Oona Stannard of the Catholic Education Service argues against the priest:
"To say that those pupils whose parents are married should be given precedence over those who are not almost leaves me speechless.

Is Fr Beck suggesting that the child is responsible for the parent or that their education and nurturing of faith is less deserving than a child of married parents?”
As I say, a degree of sanity. But you can't help pointing out that there would be a really simple way of avoiding silly debates such as this – leave parents' religious beliefs or lack of them out of the school system. Of course, this is what the British Humanist Association campaign for, and their education officer James Gray has responded to Beck's assertions:
"It is deeply unjust to suggest that state-funded schools should turn children away based on their parents’ personal circumstances. Fr Beck’s views are completely out of step with modern Britain - the public has chosen to reject insular and intolerant religious agendas.

Whatever the official view of the Catholic Education Service, it’s clear that senior figures within the Catholic Church view our state-funded education system as a means to impose a hardline moral code on children and families. Fr Beck’s comments have given us a glimpse of the kind of discrimination we may see if the government continues to increase the influence of religious groups in our schools."
Well said – sadly it probably won't be the last time the BHA have to say it. Do leave your thoughts in the comments – a Bad Faith nomination for Fr Beck, perhaps?
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