Councillor Griffiths Ignores the Non-Religious of West Sussex

Councillor Peter Griffiths, Cabinet Member for Education and Schools in West Sussex, has once again prevented the non-religious from being represented on the local Religious Education (RE) council (SACRE).

Using the Freedom of Information Act, West Sussex Humanists have discovered that the RE advisor for West Sussex suggested that a Humanist and Buddhist could join the RE council together (read more). This was as far back as summer 2009.

In a brief reply, Mr Griffiths used the letter of the law (Education Act 1996) to support his decision, knowing full well that this outdated law needs updating in view of the Human Rights Act and equality law.

The new government RE guidance clearly supports Humanist representation, and gives an example of a SACRE with a Humanist member.

Mr Griffiths has refused to reply to any of the numerous and strong arguments in favour of Humanist representation in RE.

His decision appears to be personal, as I am unaware of other councillors having been consulted, and he has ignored several options for inclusion provided by the RE advisor for West Sussex (the person with the most experience of SACRE).

The most recent British Social Attitudes Survey has found that 43% of UK residents are happy to call themselves non-religious. How is it possible that one council official can prevent such a large proportion of residents from being involved in how religion and belief is taught?

Mr Griffiths seems to be unaware of the new Equality, Diversity and Social Cohesion agenda in West Sussex. His decision sends the wrong message to schools across the County.

If you wish to protest about this shortsighted decision, you can email Mark Hammond, Chief Executive for West Sussex County Council. Here is some suggested text that you can copy and paste:

Dear Mr Hammond

I was dismayed to learn that Councillor Peter Griffiths has once again barred Humanist representation on West Sussex SACRE.

He has ignored the advice of the RE advisor for West Sussex who strongly suggested that a Humanist (and Buddhist) join the RE council.

He has refused to reply to any of the numerous and strong arguments in favour of Humanist representation in RE.

The most recent British Social Attitudes Survey has found that 43% of UK residents are happy to call themselves non-religious. How is it possible that one council official can prevent such a large proportion of residents from being involved in how religion and belief is taught?

Mr Griffiths seems to be unaware of the new Equality, Diversity and Social Cohesion agenda in West Sussex. His decision sends the wrong message to schools across the County. Is this what you want?

As a taxpayer, I expect the Council to represent the interests of all residents, not just the religious.

In the interests of fairness, I request that you overturn this shortsighted decision.

Yours Sincerely

And don't forget to vote in the Poll.

Updates

22nd April
As expected, WSCC rejected the complaint, which I then referred to the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO). The latter said that WSCC had not broken any rules. I then approached the Equality and Human Rights Commission, who were interested in the case, as it discriminates against a volunteer and also opposes community cohesion.

Due to the impending general election and possible changes in policy regarding SACRE, the BHA has decided to postpone legal action until after the election.

19th February
I have just made a formal complaint against this decision to West Sussex County Council. Here is the text of the complaint:

Following publication of the new government RE guidance, I applied to represent Humanism on WSCC SACRE.

Councillor Griffiths refused my application on the grounds that Humanism is not a religion. This is illegal under Part 2 of the Equality Act 2006, which supercedes the Education Act 1996.

This decision is also inconsistent with West Sussex County Council's Equality of Opportunity Statement, which concludes "We are committed to a culture where equality and respect for all clients and employees is inherent in every action."

The most recent British Social Attitudes Survey shows that 43% of the UK population describe themselves as non-religious. These people have a right to have their beliefs represented on SACRE.

Councillor Griffiths' decision sends a confusing message to schools, which now have a duty to promote social cohesion and embrace diversity.

I represent the British Humanist Association in West Sussex and am their nominee for Humanist representation on SACRE.

Please make me a full member of SACRE forthwith.

Thank you

Andrew Edmondson

17th February 2010
Mr Griffiths has stated that he will not consider the matter further and fully expects to apply the same deciding principles in 2013, when a new local council is elected. In other words, as far as he is concerned, West Sussex County Council will ignore the views of the non-religious until the government forces them to by law.

 

 

 

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