NSS wary of ‘religious literacy’ moves

22 April 2016

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THE National Secular Society (NSS) has expressed support for improved religious education, but with the suggestion that concerns expressed about poor “religious literacy” are a “Trojan horse to elevate the status” of religion in public life.

The NSS was making its submission to an inquiry by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Religious Education, which is seeking to support the “importance and development” of religious literacy through educational environments, including schools and other workplaces. The group had invited submission to the inquiry, which closed on Thursday of last week, on ways to improve religious understanding.

The NSS submission, published on Friday, criticises the group’s intentions, however. “Faith-based approaches to promoting civic engagement and integration are inherently problematic, not least because they risk marginalising minorities within religions and the non-religious, leading to their exclusion,” it says.

“While civil society groups based on religious identity and/or belief will naturally emerge within any free society, we believe good policy on civil society engagement is best achieved by citizens and local communities coming together over local issues/issues of shared concern rather than religious affiliation.”

In a letter to the Government last month, Fiona Bruce MP, who chairs the parliamentary group, wrote that the “significance” of religious literacy in UK society was becoming “increasingly clear”, and must be improved. “Religious literacy is an essential part of life in modern Britain, facilitating effective community engagement and enriching public dialogue.”

Her letter recommends that participants consider what they understand religious literacy to mean; how it “enriches” individuals, communities, society, and public life; and how RE could be improved for both children and adults in various “formal and informal” settings.

The group is now conducting a consultation period on the submissions, to assess how religious literacy can be improved through training schemes, long-term learning, media and literature, sport, leisure activities, and community groups. It is due to publish a report and present its findings to the Government later this year.

Ms Bruce, an Evangelical, was also one of 26 Conservatives who helped to defeat proposals to extend Sunday-trading hours.

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