Parliamentary group 'being turned into religious sect'

 "The all-party group is in danger of turning into a religious sect overwhelmingly directed by the fundamentalist Christian wing of the Conservative parliamentary party."
"The all-party group is in danger of turning into a religious sect overwhelmingly directed by the fundamentalist Christian wing of the Conservative parliamentary party."
Ian Dunt By

A parliamentary group dedicated to promoting religious education is turning into a "religious sect" controlled by the "fundamentalist Christian wing" of the Conservative party, its former chair has warned.

Writing for Politics.co.uk, Stephen Lloyd, former chair of the all-party parliamentary group on religious education, said the group's new boss had pushed through changes to exclude the teaching of values of people with no faith.

"Ignorance of people's beliefs is one of the key reasons people behave badly towards 'the other'," he wrote.

"I profoundly believed then and now that it is more important than ever that our schools should inform our children, accurately, about a wide spectrum of views and values. To change this is a retrograde step.

"Frankly the all-party group is in danger of turning into a religious sect overwhelmingly directed by the fundamentalist Christian wing of the Conservative parliamentary party."

The group's original mission statement read:

"To provide a medium through which parliamentarians and organisations with an interest in religious education can discuss the current provision of religious education, press for continuous improvement, promote public understanding and advocate rigorous education for every young person in religious and non-religious world views."

But that statement has now been amended to remove "and non-religious".

The row is the latest controversy to hit the group since the 2015 election led to a change of personnel at the top of the organisation.

Tory MPs Fiona Bruce and David Burrowes have been accused of taking over the group by stealth while its secretariat, the Religious Education Council of England and Wales (REC), undertook a search for a new chair.

While that process was ongoing, Bruce held an AGM for the group and was elected as chair, alongside Burrows as vice chair. She later sacked the REC as the secretariat, before pushing forward the amendment excluding non-religious world views.

Bruce argued that the secretariat had no right to assist in the selection of a chair and that her action was required to stay within the parliamentary rules.

In a statement on her website, she wrote:

"It would be a breach of parliamentary protocol for an external organisation to 'establish' a group, or to seek to 'find' a chair for a group," she said.

"Following the 2015 election, the chair of the all-party group, Stephen Lloyd, was not re-elected as an MP, and so, as vice-chair of the Group, I called an AGM for the group on 1stJuly, and informed all officers of the group who served in the last parliament, as well as all other MPs and members of the House of Lords, in accordance with the strict parliamentary requirements for publishing proper notice of such meetings.

"My fellow parliamentarians kindly voted me in as chair of the group. This meeting was held nearly two months after the election, by which time, I am not aware of any attempts by the Religious Education Council to approach me, as vice-chair, to help with these arrangements."

REC chief executive Rudolf Eliott Lockhart commented:

"We are disappointed that the all-party parliamentary group has decided to narrow its understanding of what religious education (RE) means. RE is a dynamic subject that benefits from an ongoing debate over its nature and scope. A broad and inclusive approach to these discussions is necessary for the health of the subject.

"The APPG has chosen to cut itself off from an important part of the debate. In doing so it makes itself out of touch with the reality of a vibrant part of what is going on in many RE classrooms across the country."

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