Scotland Subsidizes Catholic Schools

Barry Duke, president of The Freethinkers, a venerable British atheists’ group, wrote “Scottish politician vows to give his son a Jesus-centred education.” He says: “A century ago Scotland snuggled up to the Catholic Church, and agreed – under the Education (Scotland) Act 1918 – that Catholic schools would be brought into the state system. Taxpayers, of course, would foot the bill.” He goes on to criticize this arrangement. But even though it is now a century old, Duke provides no data on its costs and benefits.

The subject of the article is Deputy First Minster John Swinney, who promotes Catholic schools and plans to send his son to one. Mr. Duke’s major concern is child abuse: “If I were John Swinney I’d think very carefully in future before praising a church which has a deplorable record of child abuse spanning decades within its some of its institutions.”

While the quasi-public schools in question may have a higher risk of abuse, I suspect the difference is small. Abusive priests are predators, and minimize their risks. They target their prey – usually submissive children from devout Catholic families. Moreover, many seek special situations, such as after the death or departure of the father. Non-Catholics attending a quasi-public Catholic school probably face little risk.

One risk that Mr. Duke ignores is that subsidies to Catholic schools divert funds from public schools, leading to deteriorating quality. We’ve seen this many times in the U.S. For example, the quality of public schools in the South deteriorated after the Supreme Court ordered an end to segregation. Governments subsidized private religious schools via tax deductions, and then cut funds to public schools as they lost students. The same thing happened in “center cities” of large cities. Mr. Duke says nothing about this, but I suspect the diversion of funds to Catholic schools in Scotland has created similar problems.

Another problem Mr. Duke ignores is one of subject matter. How does an institution which believes that birth control is a mortal sin teach safe sex? Do we want our children to be indoctrinated to believe that use of condoms is immoral and should be suppressed – even in the midst of an AIDS epidemic? Money is fungible, and even funds earmarked for science courses will inevitably find their way into some sort of Catholic indoctrination. Do we want taxpayer funds used in this manner?  

Mr. Duke performs a useful service in making us aware of the situation. It would be more useful if he provided evidence about the effects of such subsidies.


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