8  NOVEMBER  2006





 On 17 October 2006, the government in the UK proposed to amend the Education Act  to require new faith schools to accept 25% of their pupils from families with other faiths or no faith at all. Nine days later. It dropped the plan. Why?


The Battle of Sectarianism Against Popular Consent in the UK :


Classic Example of  Roman Catholic Tribalism

Roman Catholic bishops  flexed their political muscles in a campaign against the above  proposal for  25% enrolment quotas in new  "faith" schools.

A recent debate in the House of Lords on 30 October 2006 revealed the effect of the beating of the Roman Catholic drum in the UK educational situation.

Lord Alton of Liverpool was described by Lord Baker of Dorking as

"the closest we get in this House to a Catholic authority".

Lord Alton himself said

" I think that he ( Lord Baker) sometimes underestimates the sense of passion that ordinary Catholics feel about this issue. I do not refer to the Catholic Church but to people who attend Catholic churches, who have been to Catholic schools, and whose children attend Catholic schools."

His statement illustrates the tribal allegiance to a particular group and their church apparatus. Combination of this peculiar tribal, religious allegiance with a state funded support network of 2075 sectarian schools in the UK and you have a potential political juggernaut.

Tribal Drums in Action: The Campaign and Key Persons:

The leaders in this action centre around the Catholic Education Service ( C.E.S.) in the United Kingdom, and in particular, its Chairman, Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Birmingham and Oona Stannard, the Chief Executive and Director.

Brief Resume of the Campaign

Lord Baker, in the House of Lords, October 30, 2006 summed up the Roman Catholic campaign against the quota system as follows:

"There was a very effective Catholic campaign - brilliantly effective.... led by the Archbishop of Birmingham.. of whom I am an admirer, because he has managed to secure a complete surrender by the government without conceding an inch."

The Roman Catholic Church actively galvanised the country's two million Roman Catholic voters. the press, priests, parents, politicians and parishioners as well as bureaucrats were all caught up in the campaign against quotas in new faith schools in England and Wales.

Both secular and religious press were employed in this campaign. Archbishop Nichols launched his secular Press attack in an article for the Daily Telegraph on 24 October 2006 whilst the Catholic Herald boldly declared "Three Days to Save our Faith Schools".

Vincent Nichols, the C.E.S Chairman wrote to all the 2075 Roman Catholic Head Teachers in the country, urging them to lobby their MPs to vote down the proposal. The Headmasters, through the taxpayer subsidized school system sent home with the children, model letters ( crafted in the C.E.S. office) to parents to mobilise them to join the campaign to lobby the politicians. The Roman Catholic bishops also urged local priests to use the pulpit to raise awareness of a planned change. The parishioners were recruited through the church system to use a model letter which was also designed by the C.E.S. to lobby politicians.

Effectiveness of the Campaign

The purpose of the campaign was to threaten British Labour Party with the alienation of two million voters. The scare campaign had a sizeable effect on a large number of key marginal seats. The campaign was so effective that Lord Baker described the labor turnaround on policy as

"The fastest U-turn in British politics."

It was a humiliating retreat for the supporters of integration of children in faith schools. Labor politicians reacted to the bombardment. Roman Catholic peers were preparing to fight the amendment in the House of Lords.

Within nine days the proposal for quotas in new faith schools had been withdrawn.

Just before their change of heart, Alan Johnson, Minister for Education in the Blair government, met a group of about 50 Labor backbenchers. Nor unsurprisingly, many of them were from marginal seats in areas with large Roman Catholic communities.

Even so, there was something in reserve. A group of individuals within the Labor Party inner circle were dedicated to the Roman Catholic position. They included Ruth Kelly, the previous  Minister for Education with Opus Dei connections; Home Secretary John Reid, and the Prime Minister and his wife, Cherie Blair.

Reactions to the Roman Catholic Campaign:

Mike Baker, education correspondent for the BBC  noted that "the Catholic School System is certainly an effective bush telegraph. Word spread rapidly from the centre to teachers, parents, priests and parishioners."

Polly Toynbee in The Guardian, October 31, 2006, wrote:

"Alan Johnson's retreat over faith schools was as depressing as it was dangerous. He was forced to eat wise words still hot from his mouth...( he) was hung out to dry...the Prime Minister wouldn't have it; nor would some fifty frightened Labor MPs in marginal seats, terrified by priests in the pulpit organising local campaigns. "

Lord Baker declared:

" It is a craven surrender".

The National Secular Society described it as a "humiliating back down... (which) illustrates the government is completely in thrall to the religious establishment."


D.O.G.S. have watched with great interest the power play in recent British politics in October 2006 regarding the quota policy for new faith schools. This power play is a variation on a theme that has occurred across centuries, countries and continents. For instance, Martin Samuel, in an article published on Times on Line entitled "Faith, Hope and Chicanery" linked "the capitulation and deals done in the UK to what the Roman Catholic Church extracted from Hitler in the fields of education, schooling and culture, in exchange for voting with Hitler."

Those who believe in church-state separation, secular public education and a liberal, heterogeneous, and democratic society can learn from the experiences of those in various countries.

Each country faces different problems and experiences in relation to the beat of the tribal drums of the Roman Catholic Church. UK citizens may not realise that they are more fortunate to date than their Australian counterparts in the type and level of debate in both the Press and Parliament concerning the influence of this tribal group.

The difference between the UK and Australian situation is simple and profound. In the first place, the church school pressure group in all its guises has a stranglehold in Australia on the press, the politicians and the professors. In Australia the religious tribal group identifying with the Roman Catholic Church form approximately 26% of the population. In the United Kingdom it is approximately half that amount. Secondly, political correctness in Australia does not allow for the type and strength of debate which is occurring in the United Kingdom.

UK Citizens Can learn from Australian Experience

In the 1870s and the 1880s, Australia's Founding Fathers- Parkes, Barton, Inglis Clark etc. were aware of the problem of religious establishments which created states within the State. They warned of the problems of states within the State caused by church schools. Their solution was separation of church and state and withdrawal of State funding to churches and church schools with  funding and promotion of a free, secular, public education system.

How right they were and how far we have fallen from the strong position we inherited from them at Federation.

Australians are currently in a terrible situation today, with sectarian school operators sympathisers, and fellow travellers in key positions throughout our institutions. In Victoria for example, we are burdened with sectarian school sympathisers in the very nerve centre of our public education system.

If they fail to call the Roman Catholic tribal bluff, both the UK and Australia are in danger of  permitting the Roman Catholic bishops to undermine the State system to the extent that they succeeded in doing in 1890 in Southern Ireland. The citizens of that country lost their free secular State system to the aggressive Roman Catholic hierarchy more than a century ago. It is now relegated to history as the "Irish Educational experiment."

For the future of our democratic state it is essential that our most precious inheritance, our public education system, is not relegated to history as a noble experiment because our politicians are unable to call the bluff of the Roman Catholic Bishops and their tribal  apparatus.


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Last modified:Wednesday, 08 November 2006