The Public Benefit of Belief

Why policies should favour education that respects families with faith backgrounds

By Roger Kiska

Introduction

Thou shall love thy neighbours as thyself” embodies the Judeo-Christian principle commonly known as the ‘Golden Rule’. Immanuel Kant notes that this external commandment to further your neighbour’s welfare from good-will that is immediate and not derived from motives of self-advantage, is premised on the internal commandment to love God above all.[1]

While the ‘Golden Rule’ can certainly be applied as a secular truth, forgetting its faith-based origins and creating educational policies which focus on values that are hostile or indifferent to faith becomes self-negating and does not guarantee full respect for others.[2]

Respect and promotion of faith-based values provide a conceptual underpinning for loving your proverbial neighbor. Moral relativism and secular humanism on the other hand do not have a moral anchor, providing no core source from which true equality based on equal dignity can be sustained. Rather than being a shield to defend the principle of equality, moral relativism often can be a sword which inspires division and the denial of dignity for all.

The fact is that Parliament, and by extension the Department of Education and Ofsted, have a compelling state interest in promoting and guaranteeing values-based education which respects families with faith backgrounds.

Parental rights

As detailed in the next section, there are quantifiable evidence-based reasons to promote education which respects parents who are people of faith, but for now let us now turn to the legal obligations, both positive and negative, which sustain why policy must do so.

Protocol 1, Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights, as transposed into our domestic law through the Human Rights Act 1998, states: “In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions”.[3] It is therefore a legal requirement that schools in England respect, and neither undermine nor interfere with, the ability of parents to bring up their children in accordance with their own religious or philosophical worldview. This same requirement, in nearly identical language, has also been ratified by the United Kingdom in no less than 5 other international treaties.[4]

The European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly held that “it is in the discharge of a natural duty towards their children – parents being primarily responsible for the ‘education and teaching’ of their children – that parents may require the State to respect their religious and philosophical convictions. This right thus corresponds to a responsibility closely linked to the enjoyment and the exercise of the right to education.[5] The Court has also held that “a balance must be achieved which ensures the fair and proper treatment of minorities and avoids any abuse of a dominant position.[6] The State, and by extension its schools, being the organiser of educational curriculum, must therefore not abuse its dominant position to force onto parents and their children views and positions about sexuality or other intimate moral matters, which many parents may find harmful to the development of their children. Universal values, on the other hand, like the ‘Golden Rule’, the promotion of individual and collective human dignity, prudence, charity, and temperance are all actualised in a values based education.

Again, as the Court has laid out: “The second sentence of Article 2 (P1-2) implies on the other hand that the State, in fulfilling the functions assumed by it in regard to education and teaching, must take care that information or knowledge included in the curriculum is conveyed in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner. The State is forbidden to pursue an aim of indoctrination that might be considered as not respecting parents’ religious and philosophical convictions. That is the limit that must not be exceeded.[7] Unfortunately, experience shows that some schools are going well beyond their statutory equality duty and promoting ideas and behaviour which is antithetical to the beliefs of many families with religious backgrounds in a manner which sometimes aggressively undermines parental rights. Rather than promoting tolerance, this style of education calls upon students to go much further and celebrate certain protected characteristics. In doing so, traditional values and faith-based beliefs are often discarded as antiquated and bigoted.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, at Article 14, is another legally binding instrument which clearly states that in the provision of education schools must respect the right of parents to raise their children, commensurate with their evolving capacities, in accordance with the parents’ religious convictions.[8] The Convention also requires, pursuant to Article 18, that parents, being the ones who love their children the most, have the primary role in deciding on the education of their children. The job of a school is not to usurp this role, but to assist parents in their task.[9] Policy which promotes a values based approach to education which respects parental rights provides the best vehicle for maximising the public benefit of faith and minimising interference with parental rights.

The public benefit of promoting values based education

Kathryn Chan, in the Oxford Journal of Law and Religion, provides an illuminative definition of what is sometimes referred to as the ‘wellspring’ argument supporting the advancement of faith and religion as a public benefit: “The advancement of religion is for the public benefit because persons who ‘have and practice a religion’ contribute disproportionately to the general ‘redistributive’ project of charity law – namely, the transfer of resources from persons to charitable purposes without the direct coercion of the state.[10]

She notes that evidence to substantiate the ‘wellspring’ argument is readily available, citing a Canadian study suggesting that it is uncontroversial that religious institutions have historically played an integral role in the provision of social welfare services, caring both for their own members, and for the broader population.[11] Credible studies also evidence that faith-based organisations and churches represent physical safe spaces not only for their congregations and members, but also for the community at large through complex social networks.[12] The National Congregations Study (2006–2007), for example, found that 45% of congregations were involved in formal delivery of social services, while another 27% were involved informally.[13] Furthermore, figures from the Charities Aid Foundation have shown that people who are religious donate twice as much money to charity as those without a faith, with just under 70% going towards causes such as medical charities, overseas aid and homelessness.[14]

Studies done here in the United Kingdom have shown that children who grow up in faith-based households tend to do better academically than other children at O level, A level and at university.[15] The Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion has also found that students who attended church weekly while growing up had significantly more years of total schooling by their early thirties than peers who did not attend church.[16] A Pew Research Study on religion and education also found that students of Jewish and Christian background are more likely to receive Higher Education degrees than the non-religious.[17]

A study conducted by an Australian government foundation revealed that “religiousness may protect against depression, be associated (albeit less strongly) with reduced anxiety levels, assist in psychological adjustment following trauma, protect against suicide and improve overall psychological wellbeing and life satisfaction.[18] The report also found that there is consistent evidence demonstrating that faith is associated with greater longevity, indicating that those who take part in faith-based behaviour are more likely to live longer and enjoy a better quality of life than those who do not associate with a religious tradition.[19]

The Journal of Psychology and Theology has found a correlation between regular church attendance and drug abstinence.[20] They also found that those with a higher religious involvement are less likely to abuse alcohol. Further studies have concurred with these findings, adding that this is likely to be due to a combination of faith doctrines guiding people how to live, as well as positive life satisfaction resulting from religious resources for coping with stress.[21] American studies have demonstrated a negative relationship between religious activity and delinquency, particularly in young people, as well as a negative correlation between religion and crime.[22]  This indicates that young people who receive a values based education are more likely to grow up to become law-abiding citizens and positively contribute to society.

Conclusion

Children who grow up within a framework where faith and values are sincere and dynamic have been shown to do better academically and on average, achieve greater success in higher education. Studies also show that having faith-based values leads to lower rates of alcoholism, drug use and other delinquent behaviour. As adults, studies prove that people of faith provide a disproportionate benefit to society by way of charitable giving and social outreach when compared to those who do not regularly attend a place of worship. Given the legal obligations surrounding parental rights in education, it would be sound policy and legally advisable to support the promotion of values which are in harmony with and respect the rights of families with faith backgrounds.

Roger Kiska is legal counsel with the Christian Legal Centre. He was a contracted legal consultant for a Member of European Parliament on legal and legislative matters and previously served as vice-president and senior counsel of Alliance Defending Freedom International. He has also served on the Advisory Panel of the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency.

 

Endnotes

 

[1] Immanuel Kant, Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone, Book IV, Part 1, Section 1.Cf. Matthew 22:38.

[2] See e.g.: Message of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace, 1 January 2011, §3.

[3] Council of Europe, European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, as amended by Protocols Nos. 11 and 14, 4 November 1950, ETS 5.

[4] Convention against Discrimination in Education, UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), 14 December 1960, Article 5(1)(b); International Covenant on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 993, p. 3, 16 December 1966, Article 13; Universal Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations, UN General Assembly, 10 December 1948, 217 A (III), Article 26(3); International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, UN General Assembly, 16 December 1966, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 999, p. 171 Article 18(4); and Convention on the Rights of the Child, UN General Assembly, 20 November 1989, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 1577, p. 3, Articles 14 and 18.

[5] ECHR, Kjeldsen, Busk Madsen and Pedersen v Denmark, Judgment, Merits, App No 5095/71 (A/23), [1976] ECHR 6, IHRL 15 (ECHR 1976), 7th December 1976, European Court of Human Rights [ECtHR], § 52.

[6] ECHR, Chassagnou and Others v. France, 29 EHRR 615, 28331/95, § 112.

[7] Kjeldsen, Busk Madsen and Pedersen v Denmark, op.cit., § 53.

[8] UN General Assembly, Convention on the Rights of the Child, 20 November 1989, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 1577, p. 3.

[9] Id.

[10] Kathryn Chan, The Advancement of Religion as a Charitable Purpose in an Age of Religious Neutrality, vol. 6 Oxford Journal of Law and Religion 112, 127 (2017).

[11] Paul Bramadat and David Seljak (eds), Christianity and Ethnicity in Canada (University of Toronto Press 2008)(as cited in Chan, 2017).

[12] Dr. Chisara N. Asomugha et al., Faith-Based Organisations, Science and the Pursuit of Health, vol. 22, no. 1 Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Undeserved, 50, 50-51(2011).

[13] M Chaves, SL Anderson, Continuity and Change in American Congregations: Introducing the Second Wave of the National Congregations Study, Sociol Relig. 2008; 69: 415–40 (as cited in Asomugha, 2011).

[14] CAF, Religious donors give more than double those of no faith (21 Feb 2012) https://www.cafonline.org/about-us/media-office/media-office-archive-article/religious-donors-give-more.

[15]Alice Sullivan, Samantha Parsons, Francis Green, Richard D. Wiggins, George Ploubidis & Timmy Huynh, Educational attainment in the short and long term: was there an advantage to attending faith, private, and selective schools for pupils in the 1980s?, vol 44, no. 6 Oxford Review of Education, 806, 818 (2018).

[16] L.D. Loury, Does Church Attendance Really Increase Schooling?, 43 Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 119-127 (2004).

[17] Pew Research Center, “Religion and Education Around the World” (December 2016), available at http://www.pewforum.org/2016/12/13/religion-and-education-around-the-world/.

[18] VicHealth, How does freedom of religion and belief affect health and wellbeing? (2011) p.28.

[19] Id p.29.

[20] John Gartner, Dave B. Larson & George D. Allen, Religious Commitment and Mental Health: A Review of the Empirical Literature, Journal of Psychology and Theology (1991) vol 19(1), p.6-25.

[21] Harold G. Koenig, Religion, Spirituality, and Health: The Research and Clinical Implications, ISRN Psychiatry (December 2012), available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3671693/#.

[22] Jeffery T. Ulmer & Casey T. Harris, Race and the Religious Contexts of Violence: Linking Religion and White, Black, and Latino Violent Crime, The Sociological Quarterly (September 2013) vol. 54(4), p.610-646.