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Humanist view: Religion should not 'trump' our rights

PUBLISHED: 08:30 23 March 2019

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An old argument over "religious freedom" has hit the headlines again.

The new row concerns a curriculum called No outsiders in our school.

The new curriculum’s aim is that all children leave primary school understanding about, and respecting, diversity. Areas covered include ethnicity, religion and disability. The aim is more important than ever given the amount of grief caused by division, fear and hatred.

But in February several hundred predominantly Muslim parents threatened to withdraw their children from a school in Birmingham planning to introduce the lessons. Some ultra-orthodox Jews and Christians have also voiced concerns. They all object to their children being taught about homosexuality and transgender issues. This is despite the lessons being factual and age appropriate.

Giving in to the demands of these religious conservatives will take us further down the road of a two tier school system: Those which give children factual information about diversity in all its forms, and teach respect for equal rights, and those where the ultra-religious hold sway. It risks many pupils leaving school ignorant and disdainful to anyone who is “other,” and children who are “different” being isolated.

Freedom of religion and belief is a cornerstone of a modern secular democracy. But that freedom belongs to everyone. It doesn’t permit the religious to trump the rights of others. It doesn’t justify depriving children of the right to learn facts. And it doesn’t excuse outdated ideas and intolerance of difference going unchecked in our schools.

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