The famous concrete hippos public artwork in Glenrothes, Fife, home of Fife council.

Humanist Society backs removing religious voting rights from Fife education committee

March 1, 2023

We’re calling for greater democratic accountability in Fife’s local authority by backing a campaign to remove voting rights from religious representatives on its education committee. Councillors will have a chance to make this change when they vote on a motion brought by Cllr Aude Boubaker-Calder later this month. Humanist Society Scotland CEO Fraser Sutherland commented in a press release on 1 March.

It’s time to bring education policy in Fife into the twenty-first century. There is a fundamental question for councillors to consider here about the role of democracy and accountability in decision-making on school management and education. The current situation is particularly galling for teachers, pupils, and parents who all have less say over these decisions than religious appointees

Fraser Sutherland, CEO, Humanist Society Scotland

At present, there are three places for religious representatives on Fife’s education scrutiny committee. Local councillors have a statutory duty to appoint these representatives through the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973. But there is no obligation for these representatives to be given voting rights. Local authorities such as Perth and Kinross, Moray, and Borders have removed religious representatives’ voting rights and other councils are considering doing so.

As things stand, the proportional representation system used to elect Fife’s council members means that the balance of power on key decisions is often in the hands of non-elected members of committees such as religious representatives. In other local areas, this power has been used against the interests of voters. In Perth and Kinross, a decision on school closure went against the majority view of elected councillors because of votes cast by religious representatives.

Research from February 2022 shows that 57% of people in Fife are non-religious. It is expected that the 2022 census, published later this year, will replicate these findings. In a largely secular community it is inappropriate that the deciding influence on matters around local education should lie with religious groups who do not represent mainstream opinion.

Religious groups are entitled to a say on how schools are run in the same way as any other interested group in the community. But it is imperative that, in Fife and elsewhere, we achieve the full separation of church and state appropriate to a fair, ethical, and secular society.

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