Over the weekend, a story broke about plans by Flintshire County Council in North Wales to offer free school bus passes only to children of religious parents. Not only that, but such parents would be required to prove their kids’ religiosity — wheeling out the baptism certificates or a letter from a local priest vouching for their attendance at church would be sufficient. The plans are only at the public consultation phase, but one suspects they won’t get much further than that.
Councils in England & Wales can provide discretionary free travel for school children attending non-secular schools – which is almost entirely made up of faith school pupils. Such schemes, worth around £500 (approximately $745) per child per year, have been scrapped across the board by most councils as they seek to make budget cuts. Such cuts are often cited as an example of Christian marginalization and touted as a “tax on religion.” Flintshire County Council is the first to target only those who do not belong to the faith of the school which they attend.
Parents and religious leaders have denounced the move, citing its obvious discrimination against the non-religious. In some areas of the country, parents might only have faith schools to choose from, though it is unclear what other options exist in this particular county.
The National Secular Society is appalled by this move:
Stephen Evans, campaigns manager at the National Secular Society, said: This kind of apartheid style home to school transport arrangement is completely unacceptable. It will result in children who live next door to each other, and travel to the same school — being treated unequally, purely on the basis of their parent’s religious beliefs.
“Unfortunately, wide exemptions to equality legislation mean discrimination in home to school transport — as with many other areas of education — is somehow deemed acceptable by the Government. The National Secular Society attempted to change this during the passage of the Education Act in 2011, but our arguments fell on deaf ears.
The council issued a short statement explaining its position:
“Like all councils, Flintshire County Council is under considerable pressure to make savings on its public spending.
“As a result, the council has had to look at every aspect of its work, especially where it is not compulsory for us to provide services and to consider how they can be delivered more efficiently and cost effectively.”