Guest column: Chairman Paul Kaufman, East London Humanists - 'Children must be taught facts of life'
PUBLISHED: 08:30 13 April 2019
An old argument over “religious freedom” has hit the headlines again in an unpleasant way. The new row concerns a curriculum called ‘No outsiders in our school.’
The new curriculum’s aim is that all children leave primary school understanding about, and respecting, diversity. Areas covered include ethnicity, religion and disability. This aim is more important than ever given the amount of grief caused by division, fear and hatred.
But in February several hundred predominantly Muslim parents threatened to withdraw their children from a school in Birmingham planning to introduce the lessons. There have been similar protests elsewhere. Some ultra-orthodox Jews and Christians have also voiced concerns. They all object to their children being taught about homosexuality and transgender issues. This is despite the lessons being factual and age appropriate.
Objections are founded on the belief, rooted in ancient religious dogma, that homosexuality is sinful and that sexuality is a lifestyle choice. These views have no scientific or factual basis. It is important that children learn the fact that different forms of sexuality exist amongst people of all cultures, religions and beliefs. A similar battle against religious dogma has had to be fought over the teaching of evolution.
Protests have been marked by an outpouring of religious homophobia. Teachers have been threatened and abused. Giving in to the demands of religious conservatives will mean many pupils leave school ignorant and disdainful to anyone who is “other” and children who are “different” being isolated and persecuted. Parents who don’t want their children to be taught the facts of life at school should also reflect that kids curious about sex will explore the Internet anyway.
It is more important than ever that schools make sure they receive information which is accurate, balanced and respectful.
Freedom of religion and belief is a cornerstone of a modern secular democracy. But that freedom belongs to everyone.
It doesn’t permit the religious to trump the rights of others.