This letter appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
A divided society looms
In my last article (First Person, January 5) I was optimistic about relations between religions and beliefs.
I had been meeting more people with different beliefs and had seen children from different backgrounds getting on with one another.
The latter is important: our children should be growing up together at school – Hindu children with Muslim children, Sikh children with humanist children, Catholics with Protestant, children indifferent to religion with those for whom it is central.
There are obvious difficulties because of the distribution of population in the city, but we should try.
Unfortunately, things are moving against us. Already, several city schools, Anglican, Catholic, Muslim and Hindu select pupils (and staff) by their religion and looking to the future, the Government's "free school" programme opens the way for many more such schools to be opened.
Under this programme, any group, local or not, can apply to set up a state-funded school in Leicester promoting one religion and giving preference to pupils and staff who belong to that religion.
Worse, there is no procedure laid down for letting us know about the application, for questioning it or for objecting to it – even the council can be kept in the dark – and the decisions are taken in London.
The programme is little over a year old and already in Leicester one school is up and running and others are being considered.
This is, of course only part of the bigger issue of the role of religion in society. What can be done?
I am, like other humanists and secularists, committed to joining with others in "promoting understanding and advancing harmonious cooperation", to quote the British Humanist Association constitution, and I have to ask my Anglican friends to think whether their Church was mistaken when in 2001 it took the decision to counter falling numbers by increasing the number of schools it controls and using schools more systematically to evangelise.
It has pursued this strategy and encouraged other religious groups to do the same.
It is now creating clusters of academies, and inviting other schools to become Anglican schools, and offering to take the place of local authorities in providing assistance – it is looking to be the biggest "provider" of education in the country.
This is not healthy for a democracy and it is being done using general taxes.
There is a steady drift towards a religiously divided country and city and politicisation of religion; and, very seriously in my view, efforts to create for our schools a vision of humanity encompassing both religious and non-religious views are being blocked.
We must work together.
Allan Hayes, Leicester