It is very strange! People are deeply and rightly upset at the idea of allowing huge international companies like McDonalds, PepsiCorp or the Werther's Originals Grandad to get into their children's schools in case they want to INDOCTRINATE the kids into lifelong cravings for burgers, fizzy pop or sweets.
But the same people seem to have NO PROBLEM with the same schools being riddled with members of huge international organisations with the avowed aim of INDOCTRINATING their kids to be lifelong believers in strange practices, magical powers and supernatural beings.
Yes, I am talking about those two words that REALLY should not be put together: RELIGION and EDUCATION.
The very idea of education BY religion – as opposed to education ABOUT religion – seems very, very odd to me.
Education is about FACTS and about INQUIRY: you need an open mind and you need to be willing to ask questions. Religion is ALWAYS going to be about saying "this is the answer. Don't ask questions, it's because I say so".
Does that SOUND very educational?
To give credit where it is due, the government minister for education education education, Mr Alan "look you've probably forgotten him already" Johnston, DID actually notice that DIVIDING children up by their parents' religions might be a bit, well, DIVISIVE.
Here I will just refer again to my good friend Mr Professor Richard Dawkins: no one should think about the children as "Catholic Children" or "Muslim Children" or "Satanic Rites of Dracula (United Reformed) Children" – they are all TOO YOUNG to have made up their minds about anything so important. Would you call them Monetarist Children, Keynesian Children or Marxist Children?
For that matter, would you say that parents should have the choice to send their children to Monetarist School, Keynesian School or Marxist School? Why do we think that it would be WEIRD to divide kids up by economic beliefs, but just DANDY to divide them up by religious belief?
Anyway, Mr Johnston thought that it would be a GOOD THING if, rather than shutting themselves away in sealed institutions, children ought to MIX with other children.
Funnily enough, the institution with most to gain – most children's minds to get hold of – was not going to take it quietly. The Catholic Archimandrite of Birmingham demanded that Mr Johnston’s quota plans be "resisted" as though meeting other kids might be some sort of THREAT. Well it is a threat, just not to the children.
We saw the Archimandrite on the Newsnight Show, for all of about five seconds before the screen was suddenly obscured by a flan flung from the hand of Daddy Richard!
Ever so bravely, the government IMMEDIATELY backed down saying they had come to a COMPROMISE where the faith schools would do exactly as they pleased.
Mr Lord Kenneth Baker asked my chums, the House of Lords Club, to put the plan back in!
But even that failed.
I wish that I could say that the Liberal Democrats have taken a firm line on this, but my lovely Sarah Teather is a bit all over the place this week. It is all good fun criticising the government for their failure to do what they should be doing and said they would be doing, but we really need to be saying what we WOULD DO as well.
I seem to remember something about the Liberal Democrats existing to protect people from IGNORANCE and CONFORMITY. Surely at school is the MOST important place to start protecting people and we should NOT be leaving them in the tender hands of VAST MONOPOLY INTERESTS.
Isn't it time to call for good schools for EVERYONE? Get the religion out and put some education in!