THE trigger was pressed by Mr. Crosland, Minister of Education, last week. He presented Parliament with a Bill implementing his February proposals to inject an extra 5 per cent into the funds of aided schools—a bonus which is going to cost the government £1,500,000 by 1969-70.
In practice, this means that the government is preparing to give a much bigger helping hand to Church schools and particularly, by sheer force of population figures. to Catholic schools.
Mr. Crosland's shot brought instant retaliation—a letter to The Times—from 16 members of the National Secular Society. They included humanist Margaret Knight, novelist and literary journalist Brigid Brophy, psychology professor H. J. Eysenck, playwright Harold Pinter, writer Marghanita Laski, and philosopher of the "outsider" Colin Wilson.
They quarrelled with the government's motive: encouraging the Church schools to go comprehensive. Denominational "segregation", they declared, was no way to comprehensive schooling.
They attacked the Catholic case for the rights of parents to choose Catholic schools for their children. "Roman Catholic parents," said the National Secularists, "are pressurised under Canon Law."
Shifting their line of fire a degree, they snapped off a slightly inaccurate shot at religious segregation at a time when "all the Churches are talking about dialogue".
Finally raising their sights to the future, the 16 members of the National Secular Society showed how the need for religious segregation could be overcome: do away with religious education as we know it, and replace it with "education in social morality and citizenship". Over and above this they offer exercises in "comparative religion and philosophy" to children in the upper secondary school.
Next day the whole offensive was laughed off by Mr. Angus Maude as a "delightful Victorian period piece". In the same issue, Colonel Sir Robin Chapman said that the parents' case forinsisting on Church schools was that the religious instruction in State schools is "far too often inadequate, perfunctory and insincere".
Colonel Chapman went on to cite the growing crime rate as an argument for maintaining the discipline of religious education.
Miss Brophy, one of the original 16, came back at Angus Maude for calling them Victorian, retorting that their tradition was in fact of 18th century vintage, and in a way even went back to Socrates.
To Colonel Chapman's argument that Church schools are good for discipline Miss Brophy replied: "Might it not make children justifiably cynical if they suspect fairytales are being foisted on them as truth with the intention of keeping them 'disciplined'?"
In the same issue Archdeacon Lockley of Loughborough claimed that the National Secularists' radical views spring from a time— Renaissance he dates it—when the Churches threatened to take-over the workings of society.
Now, he said, the danger is that on the contrary society will submerge the Churches. The really liberal approach would bellow allow them to make their contribution. Griffith Williams of the Athenaeum calling the 16 Secularists "monstrous" in denouncing Catholic parents. "What Catholics ask," he said, "is that, if they pay the same rates and taxes as anyone else. they shall be enabled to take full advantage of the law as it stands."
And in the same column the headmaster of Ampleforth, Fr. Patrick Barry, wanted to know just what the secularists meant by "segregation". The Church schools, he pointed out, have the same syllabuses, text books and qualified teachers as the State schools.
"They are inspected by the same inspectors; they take the same examinations to qualify on equal terms for the same universities or other institutes of further education; they live in the same society under the same social influences."
Fr. Barry then rounds on the National Secular Society: "How much more honest if they confessed their desire to abolish religion. The way would then be clear for them to impose their own brand of un-religion, using the schools as their instrument to divide families and remould society to their liking." The correspondence kept up its vigour this week, with Sir