Edinburgh council may strip religious reps’ votes on education

Edinburgh, Scotland, May 31, 2019 / 11:44 am (CNA).- A priest in Edinburgh has written to oppose a suggestion in Edinburgh council to strip voting rights from religious representatives on the education committee.

The Scottish government has decided that while religious representatives must be appointed to council areas’ education committees, they do not have to be afforded voting rights on those committees. The Humanist Society Scotland is urging the country’s 32 council areas to deny religious representatives a vote on education committees.

Perth and Kinross Council withdrew religious representatives’ voting rights earlier this month.

The Edinburgh Evening News reported May 30 that City of Edinburgh council members from the Scottish Green Party, supported by the Scottish Liberal Democrats, proposed that religious representatives on the education, children and families committee lose their voting rights. They also proposed that parents and youths be given more representation, though also without voting rights.

Msgr. Anthony Duffy, a priest of the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh, wrote the council to call the proposal “deeply disappointing and a very sad development”.

He added that it “endangers the very harmonious and positive relationship which has existed for many years between the council and the church,” and lamented that “there have been no formal discussions regarding this matter.”

“The church hopes that the views of people of faith continue to be important to members of Edinburgh City Council,” Msgr. Duffy wrote. “When making a decision on this matter we would ask that councillors note that almost 20 per cent of the school estate and pupil population of Edinburgh City Council is within their Catholic schools, chosen by members of the electorate, who are from all faiths and none.”

Councillors of the Scottish Conservative Party have called any decision on the matter to be postponed until August, after an appeal of Perth and Kinross’ decision can be sorted.

The Edinburgh council is administered by the Scottish National Party and the Scottish Labour Party.

Mary Campbell, the Green councillor who made the proposal, said that “the Catholic Church representative is out of touch with councillors.”

She added: “It’s 2019. It’s no longer appropriate for religious representatives to have special status on education committee, although they will still be able to take part in debate, just as parents can currently do.”

Catholic schools in Scotland are part of the state system, and are not owned by the Church. The Church does have rights over the content of religious and moral education at its schools.

The head of the Scottish Catholic Education Service has said that its representatives on education committees “do not vote on matters that will not impact on Catholic schools” and that “the Church representative on the education committee has an invaluable role in articulating the official response of the Catholic Church on these matters.”

The Bishop of Dunkeld has met with Perth and Kinross councillors to discuss that council’s decision to remove voting rights from religious representatives.

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