Mr Norman St John-Stevas, MP, Opposition Spokesman on Education, said this week that he hoped there would soon be a major national inquiry and report on religious education and that an official National Advisory Committee on Religious Education would be set up.
In the text of a speech to be given at the Human Rights Society Conference on Religious Education in London on Thursday, Mr St John-Stevas said he strongly held that the legal provision for religious education contained in the 1944 Education Act should be retained, but unless the subject was turned into a living reality the statute would become a dead letter.
He called for a non-party political approach to the subject and said that religious education should not be indoctrination "but an awakening of children to the spiritual dimension of life and to the possibility of making religious choice and commitment."
He said he was particularly concerned about the 'training and supply of religious education teachers. He was convinced that it is teachers who hold the key to the future.
The conference, organised by the Human Rights Society at London's Caxton Hall is bcine attended by Cardinal Hume, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Coggan, and the Chief Rabbi Dr Immanuel Jakobovits.
Mr James Callaghan, the Prime Minister and Mrs Margaret Thatcher, the Opposition Leader, sent messages
of support to the conference which is being attended by more than 250 people.
Mr Callaghan said that knowledge of the Christian religion and its values, an awareness of other faiths and cultures and the importance of moral values were a proper part of children's education and were more necessary than ever to provide a sure foundation for building a successful community.
Mrs Thatcher said she remained convinced that the 1944 Education Act's provision for religious education should be retained.
She regretted that she was not at the conference and hoped that the discussion would
inject a new sense of purpose
and direction into religious education.
The Human Rights Society is an organisation noted until now
for its anti-euthanasia stand.
'II-he main speaker at the conference is Howard Nlarrat, Assistant Principal at the West London Institute of Higher Education and Chairman of the British Council of Churches Education Committee.
Mr Gordon Oakes. Minister
of State for Education, addresses
the conference in the afternoon.
In his text Cardinal Hume
suggested that religious education in county schools should take note of the indifference of young people towards the institutional churches but their very real hunger for prayer. He suggested that they should develop voluntary prayer groups on the models of Catholic shared prayer groups or charismatic prayer groups and residential retreats.
Recommending a partnership between family, church and school the cardinal said: "What a transformation there would be if family, church and school were to come together to discuss and plan how each would play its proper role". He said that although the county school had no responsibility for Christian nurture, it had a duty to work in partnership with home and church so that what is planted and nurtured there may at least not be stifled and at best be encouraged.
A school existed to serve the local comfnunity and its individual members he said and it could not ignore the development of each individual as a religious person.
Vigil for peace
A 30 day vigil for peace in Northern Ireland will begin in Westminster Cathedral on March 17, St Patrick's Day. It will conclude after Easter in Westminster Abbey. Church leaders including Cardinal Hume and Bishop Gerald Ellison, Anglican Bishop of London, may take part.