Posted: Mon, 06 Aug 2018
The No More Faith Schools campaign has called on the Scottish government to "reconsider its position" on Catholic schools after an SNP MP called for "a debate" on their future.
During a fringe event at the Edinburgh festival this weekend Mhairi Black, who represents Paisley and Renfrewshire South, said her "personal view" was that a discussion was needed. She added that her opinion was partly shaped by her own experience as an LGBT student at a Catholic school.
"Even just when I am thinking of some of the damage that was done to me in an LGBT sense, growing up, it's something that I wouldn't want any other child to ever have to suffer ever again.
"That's a debate that has to happen. What the answer to that debate is I honestly don't know. I do think there is a discussion that has to be had about it."
Her words challenge the position of her own party's government in Scotland, which is holding a number of events to mark the 100th anniversary of state-funded Catholic education. In June Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister, said the Scottish government was an "unequivocal supporter" of Catholic schools when she delivered the Cardinal Winning lecture at the University of Glasgow.
In the same speech Sturgeon announced a 450% increase in the amount of money spent on a Catholic teaching programme. The National Secular Society said the decision would entrench undue religious influence in the Scottish education system.
The previous month John Swinney, the deputy first minister, gave a Catholic headteachers' conference "the absolute assurance of the commitment of the government to maintain the Catholic education tradition in the years to come".
But last year SNP MP Tommy Sheppard called for Scotland to move towards a secular education system and expressed his hope that secularist campaigners could "chip away" at religion's role in state schools.
No More Faith Schools officer Alastair Lichten welcomed Black's comments and said a debate on the subject was "overdue".
"This reminder from within the Scottish government's own party should prompt it to reconsider its position on religious schools. It must put children's interests ahead of its relationship with the Catholic Church.
"Schools should promote healthy attitudes to those students who, like Mhairi Black, are LGBT. That's best achieved when they are free from religious control."
Black has previously voiced support for secularist principles. In April she told the Scottish Secular Society of her "firm" backing for "a separation between state and religion".
"Religion, I think, is a personal choice – exist, do your thing, that's fine. But when it comes to laws, and when it comes to our institutions, we're people, and that's it. Everything else is secondary after that."
She added that she was raised in a Catholic household but the Catholic Church's refusal to allow women to become priests was part of the reason she had been put off from its teachings.
Black has also previously voiced her "wholehearted" support for the Time for Inclusive Education (TIE) campaign, which aims to tackle homophobia in schools.