A row has erupted within the Cabinet at Westminster over plans by the Education Secretary Nicky Morgan to force Muslim students to learn about other religions.
Morgan, who took over as education secretary from Michael Gove in the last reshuffle in July, plans to introduce the measure in the wake of the ‘Trojan Horse’ plot by radical Muslims to take over Birmingham schools, the Mail on Sunday reported.
Under the plans, all students taking the GCSE course in Religious Studies will have to learn about any two world religions in order to pass the exam, to ensure that Muslim students are exposed to “different perspectives”. Currently they only have to study one. Her plan is backed by home secretary Theresa May.
However, communities secretary Eric Pickles is vociferously opposed to the idea – a government source told the Mail “Eric has really gone off on one over this” – as he regards it as a violation of religious freedom. His stance is being backed by the Jewish and Catholic communities, as they are concerned that pupils in Jewish and Catholic faith schools will also have to abide by the rule and may be forced to learn about Islam.
“He thinks that it is just meddling, and it will have a knock-on effect on the freedom of Catholic and Jewish schools to restrict their teachings to just their faith and preserve their distinctive ethos. Theresa however has been fully supportive. She thinks the most important thing is to stop a new generation of Muslims from being lost to the extremists,” the government source said.
Britain’s Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis and Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Rev Vincent Nichols have both expressed concerns. The Chief Rabbi is expected to bring the subject up when he meets with the Prime Minister later this month. Both declined to comment to the press about the matter.
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby is understood to be “broadly supportive” of the move.Last night an ally of the education secretary defended the plan, saying “We saw in Birmingham the dangers of allowing schools to inculcate an intolerant and ultra-Conservative version of their faith in young and impressionable pupils.