Belfast Telegraph

Don't give control of religious education to main Churches

I WAS disappointed to read in a Belfast Telegraph report of discussions at the Presbyterian General Assembly that the four largest Christian denominations in Northern Ireland are resisting "pressure to put world religions in the (school) curriculum."

I WAS disappointed to read in a Belfast Telegraph report of discussions at the Presbyterian General Assembly that the four largest Christian denominations in Northern Ireland are resisting "pressure to put world religions in the (school) curriculum."

According to the report, the Churches are insisting that they themselves must carry out any review of the religious education core syllabus which was introduced about eight years ago.

There are many people who believe that for the Churches to exercise sole control of the religion syllabus in schools is inappropriate and unjust in a diverse society.

The Northern Ireland Inter-Faith Forum, which includes many Christians along with Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Baha'is, Buddhists and others, has been calling over many years for a more inclusive approach to RE.

We would like to see a religious education programme in schools which can be justified on soundly educational grounds rather than based on the privileged position of any particular religious group or groups.

Such an approach must be sensitive to the diverse religious needs of various faith traditions but it must also enable children and young people from all backgrounds to engage in an open ended exploration of a range of religious beliefs, practices and issues, as appropriate to their age and ability.

It is not at all unreasonable that the Churches should have a role in the process of planning a syllabus for RE but, in the increasingly plural society in which we live, we believe it is quite inappropriate for religious education to retain an exclusively Christian character, as in the past.

If religious education in schools is to have any real credibility it must shake off the uneducational image of being no more than a mission arm of the Churches. It must be taught professionally and fairly by properly trained teachers.

Members of the "minority" faith traditions in Northern Ireland would welcome the opportunity of working in partnership with representatives of the Churches and others to improve the inclusivity and quality of RE.

NORMAN L RICHARDSON, Secretary, Northern Ireland Inter-Faith Forum.

Belfast Telegraph

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