No proof of faith, no free bus ride: Welsh council plans discrimination against non-believers

AN OUTRAGEOUS decision has been taken by Flintshire Council in north Wales to deny free school transport to to children of non-believing parents who attend faith schools.

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The Council, seeking to make cost cuts, intends introducing its “pay-if-you-can’t-prove-your-faith” scheme next year, and children would have to produce a baptism certificate, a letter from a priest or other “suitable evidence of adherence to the faith of the school”.

There are 12 denominational schools in the area.

According to this report, it is thought to be the first scheme of its kind in the country and is in stark contrast to controversial moves elsewhere in the UK where councils have scrapped subsidised travel to faith schools – worth around £500 a year per child – across the board.

In such cases councils have been accused of introducing a “tax on religion” and discriminating against people of faith.

Parents and even Roman Catholic priests in the Flintshire area have united to accuse the council, which is making cuts to save around £100,000 a year, of discrimination against people without religious faith.

The task of working out exactly how parents would prove their child’s religion is to be left to the schools.

One school which would be affected is St Richard Gwyn Catholic High School, in Flint, at which more than half of admissions come from non-Catholic primary schools.

One mother with a daughter at the school who fears she will not be able to send her younger child there said:

My children have not been christened, through my choice not theirs, but the school faith is all they have ever known. Just because a child has a baptism certificate it does not mean they are any more active believers than those who haven’t. It is prejudiced to ask parents of non-baptised children to pay for their transport.

Canon Joe Stuart of Connah’s Quay Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church said:

Education in this country is free, you can’t penalise people according to their faith by imposing a financial penalty if they have been accepted to the faith school but don’t share the belief.

Greg Pope, deputy director of the Catholic education Service for England and Wales, added:

We appreciate that this year’s financial settlement has been difficult and that local authorities are having to make tough decisions. However we hope that councils will stand by their obligations to support home-to-school transport, otherwise it makes parental choice difficult for many families.

A council statement said:

Like all councils, Flintshire County Council is under considerable pressure to make savings on its public spending. As a result, the council has had to look at every aspect of its work, especially where it is not compulsory for us to provide services and to consider how they can be delivered more efficiently and cost effectively.

According to this report, Simon Hughes, headteacher at St David’s, questioned how pupils will prove their faith.

As a Catholic school we are not just here to provide education for Catholics; we open our doors to all faiths. It’s a dangerous step to go down in terms of proving your faith – how do you prove your faith? Not everyone has a baptism certificate and baptism does not prove the child regularly goes to church.

Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, said:

This proposal is the worst of all worlds. It is bad enough that the council provides free transport to denominational schools in the first place, but it is scandalous that there will now be a religion test. There will be children who live next door to each other who might be going to the same school – one can take the bus and the other, who hasn’t been baptised into that particular faith, will have to make other arrangements. It is the absolute epitome of discrimination, and should be illegal.

Mr Sanderson said the Council should urgently rethink its policy and scrap free transport to “faith schools” altogether.

How ever the council organises this, it will mean discrimination for someone. Other councils around the country have already stopped this business of subsidising religion and discriminating against those who don’t have it. Flintshire should follow their example.

And whilst on the subject of faith schools, Nick Clegg, deputy Prime Minister and an atheist, is accused here of “breathtaking hypocrisy” for accepting a place for his son at the prestigious London Oratory Catholic school.

Hat tip: Agent Cormac (Flintshire report)