By Garry J. Moes
LONDON (CR) – Of all the remarkable achievements marking Britain’s conservative shift, few are more stunning than a recent act of Parliament requiring state education in the United Kingdom to be distinctly Christian in character.
The new law went into effect September 5th, following several months of negotiation over wording designed to guarantee respect for other faiths. The legislation, contained in amendments to Britain’s long-standing Education Reform Bill, was spearheaded by the Conservative Family Campaign, a Christian action group headquartered in Surrey.
Specifically, it requires that compulsory religious education in state schools be “in the main Christian” and that the daily act of worship in state schools likewise be Christian in character. The legislation includes “provisions and caveats” for students from non-Christian faiths, according to Graham Webster-Gardiner, chairman of the Conservative Family Campaign.
Nearly as noteworthy as the legislation itself was the alignment of forces for and against the pro-Christian amendments, officially sponsored in the House of Lords by Baroness Caroline Cox. Not so surprising was the opposition of Britain’s socialist Labor Party and a variety of liberal church interests who saw the legislation as a threat to religious pluralism. What was truly remarkable was the support given by key leaders of non-Christian faiths whose interests allegedly would be jeopardized by the new law.
Among such supporters was Lord Jakobovits, chief rabbi of the House of Lords, who underscored the sweeping significance of the legislation during floor debate in the upper house. “If we consider religious faith and precept as the spiritual lifeblood of the nation and all its citizens … indiscriminate mixing of blood can prove dangerous and so can the mixing of faiths in education,” Lord Jakobovits said.
He offered as an example of how that principle applies to Jews the testimony of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, principal of Jews’ College. In a radio meditation, Rabbi Sacks described how he was raised at a primary school which was devoutly Church of England and where Jewish boys had their separate Jewish assemblies.
Rabbi Sacks related: “The effect of this schooling on our Jewish identity was curious. It made us, of course, acutely aware that we were different. But because those around us were taking their religion seriously, it made us consider our Judaism seriously, too … So it isn’t strange that all this produced a rabbi. From living with those who valued their traditions, I learned to cherish my own.”
Lord Jakobovits noted that two Newcastle teachers had complained in a report called “Crisis in Religious Education” that today’s school children have been losing the chance to grow as practicing Christians. “They might, I think, have gone further still; for if Christianity suffers, so, in a curious way, does every other faith as well,” Rabbi Jakobovits observed.
Graham Webster-Gardiner said the opposition of liberal churchmen showed “how riddled the Body of Christ is with secular humanism not only in the apostate Church but seemingly reliable organizations. It just emphasizes the necessity for Conservative Family Campaign to exist and how vital it is for us to continue to speak out for Christian values and standards in society.”
Baroness Cox, in promoting the measure, said, “Many parents and teachers had been expressing grave concern over what has been happening in many schools, where religious education and worship have either become secularized and politicized, or been transformed into a confusing multifaith mixture which does justice to no faith and may destroy all faith.”
During debate, Lord Home said claims by some members of Parliament and certain church leaders that Britain is no longer a Christian country were “too facile a judgment.” Noting that Britain has an established church headed by the queen and that Parliament itself begins its daily proceedings with the prayer “Prevent us, O Lord, in all our doings …” Lord Home concluded: “All that is not a sham. It is real, and our young people ought to know the story of Christianity and the commitment of their predecessors to its values. Far too many of them do not know about that today.”
While the United States has from its beginning vigorously avoided an “established” church, Lord Home’s conclusion is clearly applicable to the American situation as well. For without a doubt, the United States was founded and built upon the same Christian commitment and values, vital roots which have been totally severed from the public educational nourishment of American schoolchildren.
Lord Charteris of Amisfield (Independent) told his peers that there is grave danger in a “multifaith approach” to education.
“I think it is a mistake and dangerously wishy-washy,” he said. “It is absolutely right that children should learn about faiths other than their own and learn to respect them. But, unless they really know one, they will not really know anything worth knowing about any. I believe we have a great opportunity to redeem the past. If we fail to grasp it, future generations will not easily forgive us.”
Viscount Buckmaster, claiming to speak for Britain’s Moslems, said adherents of Islam also supported Lady Cox’s amendments because “Moslems feel very strongly that Christian education in our schools should be given a more positive image.”
Lord Thorneycroft, a Conservative Party member, said the floor speech given by the chief rabbi highlighted the fact that the legislation does not require “Jews to become Christians, but … Christians to become Christians. With the West Indians clamoring for it, with the Moslems praying for it, and with the Jews urging it in this House, what case is there for not having Christian education in the schools?
“What is the alternative? I ask that deep thought be given to this matter. The amendment [offered] by Lady Cox goes to the root of the alternative, which is some kind of multifaith education. The Chief Rabbi called it a ‘kind of religious cocktail.’ The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London said that he is nervous of compulsion. So am I. I would be most nervous of compelling people to have a multifaith education.”
Christian education advocates in America, Australia, France, Scandinavia and other highly secularized or pagan lands may consider the adoption of legislation similar to the British amendments a virtual impossibility. But those with such despairing views should consider the spiritual climate in Great Britain a few years ago, and even today. If such a step can be accomplished in a nation whose population has been regarded as overwhelmingly apathetic or hostile to true faith for many decades, it can surely be accomplished in countries, such as the United States, where vast majorities still claim a Christian faith and millions actively pursue it for the reconstruction of their society.
Excerpted from an article by Garry Moes, in Chalcedon Report, P.O. Box l58, Vallecito, CA 95251. Used with permission.