British Plan to Expand Religious Schools Criticized

But Labor Government Stands By Its Proposal

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LONDON, MAY 31, 2001 ( The Labor government´s plans for a big expansion of religious schools were condemned by the National Secular Society as grossly discriminatory and an «explosive» threat to community relations, the Guardian reported.

In a response to the green paper on Labor´s plans for education reform, published in February and since used in the election manifesto, the NSS said Wednesday it was scandalous that education resources — paid for by all taxpayers — were being channeled into schools that gave privileged access to people of a particular faith.

In the green paper, Labor outlined plans to set up more schools supported by the churches and minor faiths. Since the 1997 election, Muslim, Sikh and Greek Orthodox schools have been brought into the state system for the first time, and given voluntary-aided status and government funding already enjoyed by Anglican and Catholic schools.

But the NSS questioned in its submission why Labor had made the plans at a time church attendance was at its lowest in Britain. Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the NSS, said: «We are shocked that the government intends to extend further the unfair privileges that religious schools already enjoy.

A spokesman for Labor said its expansion of religious schools was based on the need for equal opportunity, which had been denied by the previous government: «It was indefensible for the Tories to refuse to support Muslim and other schools. We must offer other faiths the same rights to a state education which have been enjoyed by Anglicans and Catholics for decades.»

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