Education Newspaper Letters

Intolerance, Abuse and Disdain for Human Rights – The Scottish Secular Society – Courier Debate continues

Letter: Secularists misrepresented
The Courier & Advertiser 3 Oct 2015

Sir, – In response to my letter detailing his misrepresentations of The Scottish Secular Society Rev David Robertson (September 29) produces more misrepresentations.

The SSS do not oppose the right of parents to have their children educated according to their religion, we merely oppose the idea that the state must supply such education. In this we are not at variance with the UN Charter on Human Rights which obliges states only to allow such educational choices, not to fund them.

Education according to parents’ religion can easily be provided outside state schools, in homes, churches, Sunday schools and private Bible classes set up by groups. Atheist parents who wish to bring up their children as atheists are not helped to do so by the state education system, so why must Christians be?

Mr Robertson claims that schools cannot be neutral on belief since every school has a philosophy and ethos. Whether every school has a philosophy depends on how we interpret that word. Every school must have an ethos but that does not prevent neutrality on religion, since we all agree on many ethical issues. We do not expect schools to be neutral on bullying but an anti-bullying ethos is neutral on religion.

Mr Robertson falsely claims that The SSS’s petition against teaching young Earth creationism failed for lack of evidence. We presented evidence of such teaching and succeeded in obtaining guidance against it.

Mr Robertson sees dislike of religion in threads on our “official page” “attacking” the Pope, Islam and Christian politicians. If he means our public news page, individuals are able to comment there, as in the open forum, but do not necessarily represent the group.

Robert Canning. Vice-chair, The Scottish Secular Society, 58a Broughton Street Edinburgh.

Letter: Secular society’s disdain for human rights
The Courier & Advertiser 7 Oct 2015

Sir,- Robert Canning of the Scottish Secular Society (SSS) (letters, October 3) declares that while it tolerates parents being allowed to educate their children according to their beliefs, it objects to the state paying for such education. While I appreciate their tolerance of the rich being able to do what they want, my concern is with the poor.

Such restriction of choice is in direct contravention of article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which declares “parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children”, and that “everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages”.

The SSS position is also against the European Protocol on Human Rights, article 2, which states “No person shall be denied the right to education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to eduction and training, the state shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions”.

It is more than a little disturbing that the tiny SSS does not support this basic legal human right and instead seeks to use the education system to impose its politics, philosophy and ethos upon all of us.

As regards their creationism petition, Mr Canning has a strange definition of “success”. The SSS offered not one shred of evidence that creationism was being taught in science classes and its “success” was that the government rejected its petition, issued advice on what is already the case and changed nothing.

Finally, Mr Canning states that the numerous anti-religious posts on both their official and “open forum” do not necessarily reflect the views of the society. I wonder if he says the same about the founder and current office bearer, Garry Otton, who in 2013 declared on its Facebook page that: “Personally, as a secularist, I hate religion and feel I have every right to, despite attempts by the Scottish government to sneak a blasphemy law round the back door by making it an offence this year to hate religion.”

David Robertson, St Peters Free Church, St Peter St, Dundee.
Letter: Intolerance and abuse by society
The Courier & Advertiser 7 Oct 2015

Sir,- I can only confirm Rev David Robertson’s experience of the Scottish Secular Society and what many may interpret as its intolerance. I have read posts by one of the society’s leading lights over a period, referring to Mr Robertson in terms that were highly insulting.

I too as an ordinary citizen who had written a letter the secularist body did not like a few years ago, found my Facebook page invaded by some of its leading members and posts of an insulting nature made about me for no reason other than that I disagreed with their view of the world.

I have watched and read many letters and, perhaps more revealingly, posts by the SSS and its leading lights since then.

The petition raised before the Scottish Parliament by the SSS, about alleged creationist indoctrination in Scottish schools, was in fact signed by dozens, if not hundreds, of people living furth of Scotland in England, America and other dubious locations in terms of rights to raise issues in the Holyrood Parliament.

I too feel concerned by the vitriol some supporters and office bearers of this organisation pour on anyone who disagrees with their opinions.

The SSS is a tiny and unrepresentative body, in my view not very Scottish in its membership, shrilly atheist rather than solely secularist in its real beliefs, unrepresentative of Scots people and their traditions of civility and tolerance, and an organisation all too accurately described by David Robertson.

Gus Logan, York Road North, Berwick.

The other letters in this now long running saga can be followed through the link below..


  1. Good call David with posting about Otton’s “personally, as a secularist, I hate religion and feel I have every right to, despite attempts by the Scottish government to sneak a blasphemy law round the back door by making it an offence this year to hate religion” to Canning’s “individuals are able to comment there, as in the open forum, but do not necessarily represent the group.

    It would seem that Otton’s “hate” has been turned also towards the Scottish government and that he is not alone with focusing on this. Is it and surprise that that kind of approach should illicit the response form Salmond that “all denominations have a key role to play in society and we are very fortunate in Scotland because we have a tremendous ability, among religions and denominations, to come together and support good causes. [and] “what exactly is it that the secular society fear about religious faith which makes them so sensitive?””

    According to the Equality Act 2010 religion is defined as “religion means any religion and a reference to religion includes a reference to a lack of religion.”

    By that definition, it would seem that Otton and Canning have much religious fervour.

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