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Sectarianism and Catholic schools ââ?¬â?? the taboo we are afraid to discuss

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John Lamont is not the sort of MSP one would expect to indulge in deliberately aggravating behaviour, but that is what this mild-mannered, studious-looking Tory was accused of doing yesterday.


His crime? To raise the issue of Catholic schools during a parliamentary debate on sectarianism. This is the remark that got him into so much trouble: ââ?¬Å?The education system in this part of Scotland [the west] is effectively the state-sponsored conditioning of these sectarian attitudes. And I say this as someone who believes, as a Christian country, we should do more to promote Christian values in our young people and support religious education in schools.


ââ?¬Å?Clearly these attitudes are being entrenched at home and the wider community in these small pockets of west central Scotland.ââ?¬Â


Now, just consider for a second what Frank Mulholland, the Lord Advocate, said when explaining the way police would interpret various forms of behaviour under the new anti-sectarian laws.


Appearing before the justice committee on Wednesday, Mr Mulholland said: ââ?¬Å?It [the bill] is not intended to criminalise the singing of national anthems in the absence of any other aggravating behaviour. It is not intended to criminalise the making of religious gestures without any aggravating behaviour.ââ?¬Â


And he used this as an example: ââ?¬Å?If someone at an Old Firm match were to leave the Rangers end and run across the pitch and, in front of the Celtic fans, was to sing the national anthem then the context of that may be ââ?¬â?? arguably ââ?¬â?? criminal because the intention is to cause public disorder.ââ?¬Â


The way Mr Lamont was being treated yesterday suggested that he had committed the parliamentary equivalent of ââ?¬Å?aggravating behaviourââ?¬Â ââ?¬â?? that he had, in effect, run across from the Rangers end to sing God Save The Queen in front of the Celtic end.


It was not, apparently, that he had raised the issue of Catholic schools that had shocked Holyrood, it was the context in which he had raised them that was important. He had raised the issue of Catholic schools during a parliamentary debate on sectarianism ââ?¬â?? and, more than that, he had suggested that Catholic schools were one of the root causes of sectarianism.


Indeed, it was almost possible to hear a collective dropping of jaws right around Holyrood the moment the words ââ?¬Å?state-sponsoredââ?¬Â and ââ?¬Å?sectarian attitudesââ?¬Â were out of his mouth.


ââ?¬Å?Heââ?¬â?¢s going to get peltersââ?¬Â was the general impression along the media corridor, and that is what happened.


MSP after MSP lined up to attack him in the chamber, the Tories distanced themselves from his remarks and Roseanna Cunningham, the community safety minister, expressed her ââ?¬Å?astonishmentââ?¬Â at his comments.


The Roman Catholic Church in Scotland was appalled and indignant at what west of Scotland Labour MSPs would regard as political suicide had it come from them.


A church spokesman said: ââ?¬Å?These remarks are both inflammatory and insensitive, the Catholic Church rejects and repudiates them entirely. As a matter of urgency the Conservative Party should issue a reassurance to Scotlandââ?¬â?¢s Catholics that Catholic schools enjoy the support of the Conservative Party.ââ?¬Â


But why were Mr Lamont�s comments so frightful and why was it that the context made them so outrageous?


Is there a place to discuss the role ââ?¬â?? and effect ââ?¬â?? of denominational schools in Scottish society? If there isnââ?¬â?¢t, there should be. And if a parliamentary debate on sectarianism ââ?¬â?? which should be trying to explore all avenues and properly debate all the manifestations of this issue ââ?¬â?? isnââ?¬â?¢t the place, then where is?


The ââ?¬Å?state-sponsored conditioning of sectarian attitudesââ?¬Â was the phrase that everybody reacted to, but it is worth going a step further back and considering Mr Lamontââ?¬â?¢s remarks in the round.


This is what Mr Lamont said before that. He recalled his time growing up in a non-denominational school in Kilwinning, in Ayrshire. He said tensions with a local Catholic school resulted in some pupils throwing eggs and stones at buses.


ââ?¬Å?The segregation of our young people has brought them up to believe that the two communities should be kept separate,ââ?¬Â Mr Lamont said.


He argued that the education system of west and central Scotland had ââ?¬Å?produced many, if not all, of those who are responsible for the shocking behaviour we have witnessed in recent months.ââ?¬Â


And it was then that he made the comment about state-sponsored sectarianism.


It may well be that Mr Lamont is totally wrong in his remarks, that there is absolutely no thread at all linking Catholic schools and the festering prejudice, suspicion and ignorance that blights both sides of the sectarian divide. But if there is even the slightest hint of reality anywhere in his comments, then Scotland, as a society, should be brave enough, mature enough and fair-minded enough to debate it.


It is not a question of wanting to see Catholic schools disappear, rather of whether the attitude taken by some in society to Catholic schools ââ?¬â?? from both sides of the religious divide ââ?¬â?? perpetuates and intensifies religious prejudice in later life.


From what I could interpret, Mr Lamont was not suggesting that Catholic schools fostered sectarianism by teaching religious intolerance. What he seemed to be suggesting was that the existence of these schools bred hatred from others ââ?¬â?? borne out of ignorance.


Most people in Scotland can recite at least one anecdotal example of sectarian prejudice that comes from an ignorant approach to schooling. I know of one person who moved from the Hebrides to Glasgow and, as an adult, was asked by her neighbours which school she went to.


When she replied ââ?¬Å?such-and-such high schoolââ?¬Â, she was pressed again. ââ?¬Å?No, which school did you go to? Was it Saint such-and-such high school?ââ?¬Â


However, the reaction to Mr Lamont�s remarks showed that this is one issue that politicians, decision-makers and commentators don�t appear to want to touch. It is as if it is too volatile, too risky and too difficult an area to get into.


But, if Scotland is to address sectarianism, really address sectarianism, then our political leaders should not be scared to look into every part of Scottish society in an effort to find answers. This does not just mean discussing the role, value and effect of Catholic schools, it means there should also be a debate, a proper debate, about all faith schools ââ?¬â?? including specialist Muslim schools, too.


It may well be that everybody involved decides that faith schools are good, positive forces for our society, and that they should not just be continued but encouraged ââ?¬â?? but we should not be scared of the debate.


Religious prejudice has declined massively in Scotland over the last few decades ââ?¬â?? but, as with all prejudices, what there is, is based on ignorance. For that reason, if for no other, then we should embrace all attempts to delve deeply into the issue, not shut it off because it is ââ?¬Å?too riskyââ?¬Â a subject.


If we fail to debate it, then we shall never show the maturity as a society we need to tackle it properly ââ?¬â?? and that, surely, is the real aim behind the anti-sectarian legislation currently being considered by parliament.



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  • 2 weeks later...

I truly believe it is only THEY who are afraid to discuss it as it. Because discussing it would mean admitting there is a problem..... and as we know it's everyone else who has the problem, not THEM.

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I done an essay about this in school a good few years ago and asked an english teacher to proof read it for me prior to submitting it. She marked me as a 89% pass but got failed by my own english teacher as I apparently shouldn't have picked a subject that could offend. I ended up taking this to head of department etc and got it passed by another english teacher who was never named. Later spoke to her and she went to a Catholic school and felt I was making problems from nothing. What hope is there?!

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The Catholic Church has the whole country running scared and for me it has way to much political power. Church and state should be kept separate and that means all churches. It took a brave man to stand up in that cesspit of a parliament and question single faith schools let's hope there are more brave men out there, judging by the reaction his comments got most will keep their heads well below the parapet. For me school is for reading writing and adding religion should have no part in school. The Catholic church will say they don't teach that other religions are bad but they do teach that only the Cathoilc religion is right and that is wrong on so many levels and for this to be state funded in the 21st century just beggars belief. So go Mr Lamont keep shouting and shout loud hopefully one day this crazy wee country of ours will stop to listen, I can only hope.

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