Campaign against sectarianism

I recently shared some brief thoughts about sectarian education (“faith schools”) in the UK. I’ve now learned of a follow-up to the hugely popular atheist bus campaign.

The British Humanist Association is launching the “Atheist Billboard Campaign“. An interesting twist is that (contrary to what many kneejerk commentators are likely to declare), the billboards do not promote atheism at all.

Accompanying a picture of two unbearably cute kids jumping joyfully (left) is the text:

“Please don’t label me. Let me grow up and choose for myself.”

Another version (right) says:

“No faith schools. Yes you can donate today.”

Yes, I suppose “No faith schools” may sound, to some ears, like a promotion of atheism, or at least an attack on religion. It’s not – and the campaign is clear in that it’s against sectarianism, not against religion in general. However you feel about it, the idea appears to enjoy popular support. A poll by Accord reports that 57% of people in the UK feel that faith schools undermine community cohesion. A four-year-old poll reported in the Guardian reports ‘64% agreeing that “the government should not be funding faith schools of any kind”.’

Now look at the text in the background of the ad (it’s clearest in the big version, which I’ve included at the bottom of this post). Clearly among the labels that we should avoid (according to the ad) are “agnostic child”, “atheist child”, and “humanist child”.

If you agree with this message – that children should not be labelled according to the beliefs of their parents, and that faith schools should not be publicly funded, go donate to the campaign here or here. If you disagree, or aren’t sure, go learn more.

And, as always, please let me know what you think.



5 Responses to “Campaign against sectarianism”

  1. David Says:

    While I agree with the aim of this campaign, having attended and taught at both faith and secular schools, I believe the justification given to be flawed, or at least the emphasis of the justification. I cannot see how parents of any worldview would be able to avoid passing on aspects of their belief system. In the same way that attitudes about what to eat, what to wear, what language to speak, and what football team to support are inevitably passed on from generation to generation (my wife and I discovered the strength of this when choosing whether to buy an upright or pull-along vacuum cleaner!), understanding of the beliefs of parents is bound to be more often than not shared with children. I strongly agree that teaching children about a wide range of worldviews and giving them the freedom to choose as they grow in maturity and understanding is essential, though thinking that this can be done in a totally detatched and unbiased way is foolish. If I believe that rugby is a fundamentally better game than football, I fully intend to play more rugby with my children, though naturally I'll in no way disown them if they disagree. If I were to do otherwise I would fall into one of two traps, personal compromise or blind dogmatism.

  2. Timothy Mills Says:

    David, thanks for your comment. In fact, I agree with all of what you say. So do the people behind the new ad campaign – go read their FAQ. Here's one of their points elaborated:Don't we influence children one way or the other whatever we do?Yes, and it's quite correct that parents should try and educate their children, including education on moral and personal matters.However there is a spectrum of influence. On the one hand some parents insist children share their beliefs, preventing them from learning about other beliefs and 'protecting' them from external influences that might undermine those beliefs. On the other hand there are parents explaining what they believe, perhaps encouraging their children to share those beliefs but leaving option open without prejudice that their children won't share those beliefs, being open about the fact that other people (good people) have different beliefs, and encouraging them to find out about those too, and to respect other people's rights to their beliefs.Sometimes it's difficult to know what counts as education and what counts as indoctrination. But in the case of labelling children as if they innately hold a particular religion or ideology, or claiming that they "belong" to a particular religion, this is clearly over that line. Anyone truly interested in the autonomy and freedom of their children should avoid labelling them. Even if instilling "faith" is your goal, what does that faith really mean if it is first presumed and then reinforced by repeated use of labelling?

  3. David Says:

    Nicely put. Thanks for the clarification, and nice to make friendly contact.

  4. Mariano Says:

    This is merely more atheist propaganda as Richard Dawkins wonders whether there is occasion for “society stepping in” and hopes that such efforts “might lead children to choose no religion at all.” Dawkins also supports the atheist summer camp “Camp Quest.” Furthermore, with this campaign they are attempting to piggy back on the United Nations.Phillip Pullman states the following about his “fictional” books for children, “I don't think I'm writing fantasy. I think I'm writing realism. My books are psychologically real.” But what does he really write about? As he has admitted, “My books are about killing God” and “I'm trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief.”More evidence here: again, atheists are collecting “amazing sums” during a time of worldwide recession not in order to help anyone in real material need but in order to attempt to demonstrate just how clever they consider themselves to be—while actually loudly, proudly and expensively demonstrating their ignorance and arrogance—need any more be said?

  5. Timothy Mills Says:

    I had not intended to dignify that comment with a response. But I thought I'd at least highlight this, as one of many examples of why his portrayal of atheists is wrong:Atheists helping the homeless.

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