The UK's faith schools can help foster religious tolerance provided they teach inclusivity and mutual respect, a British government minister said during a visit to Rome this week.
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, a foreign minister with a brief covering religious freedom, talked about his own experience of attending a Church of England school and sending his children to Catholic schools
“We must educate our children to understand other religions, in the hope that the next generation will be wiser than those that have come before it.
"And schools can play this role, including faith schools. I myself am a product of a Church of England School, my mother insisted on it. She believed it was essential for learning about and respecting other beliefs – so I know this from experience,” he said in an address titled “Why it matters to be intolerant of intolerance” at the Pontifical Gregorian University.
“And I have made the same choice as a parent myself, my eldest daughter attends a Catholic school and my son a Catholic Jesuit school. It doesn’t dilute our faith, but rather makes us more rounded. The crucial thing is that schools teach inclusivity and mutual respect: that is the key to a tolerant and peaceful future.”
Speaking afterwards to The Tablet, Lord Ahmad – a Muslim – said the British education system was enriched by faith schools and said he favoured more of them provided they are inclusive of other religions. And he called on the Church of England and Catholic Church to help other faiths set up new schools.
“When you do have established Church of England schools, and Catholic Schools, you share your experience, your learning. I think there is a role there for those two communities to assist those faiths seeking to establish new schools, and to share those experiences,” he said.
While in Rome, Lord Ahmad met with Vatican officials including Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Holy See’s foreign minister equivalent, where they discussed efforts to prevent sexual violence and freedom of religion.
In his speech on Tuesday evening he issued a firm condemnation of religious bigotry.
“Every act of intolerance, every attack by neighbour on neighbour, community on community and country on country is an attack on those rights and on society as a whole,” he said.
“Humanity cannot afford for this to continue. Too many people – man, woman, boy, girl, black, white – have suffered for too long.”
Speaking to The Tablet, he said the government was consistently raising questions of religious intolerance through its ambassadors, and is particularly concerned about countries in Asia such as Pakistan and Indonesia.
It is important, he said, to clamp down on the “first sense of intolerance and discrimination” because “turning blind eyes” to the problem leads to persecution.
He stressed that Britain was concerned about the persecution of Christians abroad.
“We have all been horrified by the barbarity of Daesh, including towards Christians, Yazidis and Mandeans in Iraq and Syria, and the despicable crimes of Boko Haram’s atrocities against Nigerian Christians,” he said in his speech.
Lord Ahmad also said concerns about Britain’s declining influence in the world was misplaced, adding that his travelling had revealed that countries outside of Europe “see it as a huge opportunity to do more with us”.
Pic: Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, PA