There is an interesting conundrum facing the advocates of faith schools in the UK because the composition of the erstwhile Roman Catholic Sacred Heart Primary School in Blackburn is now apparently 97% muslim and as a result, there is likely to be a change of management. What that really means is that the families claim the religion of their children is that way - the children themselves haven't had the opportunity to exercise any right to develop their own beliefs.
The Catholic Church though, recognising that their creed does not fit with the majority of their clientele, has decided that it is no longer "appropriate" that the church should be running the school. Instead, they seem to be in negotiations with a nearby mosque.
This will doubtless cause some difficulty for those right-wing advocates of parental choice, who support the creation and existence of faith schools. On the one hand, they want to promote religion in schools, but on the other they will be fearful of the significance of a conversion of a Roman Catholic school to Islam. They want Christian church schools not islamic schools. They want Christian indoctrination, not children learning the Suras of the Qur'an.
Already there are xenophobic responses talking about Islam taking over, about forcing communities to convert, about indoctrinating children. But the irony is that every religious school indoctrinates its children. The whole point of religious schools is to get at children because they are at an age when they will believe what they are told. They have yet to develop their critical faculties and so are unlikely to question the irrational nature of religious belief.
One of the consequences of promoting religious education is precisely that there will be challenges between different religions. When one religion argues that they are the chosen race, or that Jesus was nothing more than a Prophet, or that there is no such thing as the Trinity, or that transubstantiation is an abomination, religious conflict inevitably ensues.
These struggles between different branches of irrationalism harm children, divide communities, and cause conflict. Religion is a problem, not a solution. The obvious answer is to remove religious influence from all schools. We should not accept the subjection of our children to religious indoctrination any more than we would accept political indoctrination in schools.
Already, the comments on web reports of the possible change of management of the school are showing vicious racist sentiments with some people talking about Asian take-overs, forced conversion to Islam and other xenophobic fears. But the reality is that if any school is based on a religious creed, it will encourage those xenophobic attitudes. And as demographics change, so will the dominant religion.
It is this worry that preoccupied many Protestants in the North of Ireland. Larger catholic families led to predictions that pretty soon, the Protestants would lose control of councils, and see their privileges disappear. That fear led to a hardening of prejudice.
Religion and racism are very closely connected. Religions define themselves through difference, suspicion, division and separation. Chosen races, exclusive rituals, separate institutions and hierarchies, together with religious books that express violent attitudes to those not believing the same things, all encourage hostility. Every religion claims their god is loving and compassionate but is also vengeful, violent, and punishing.
Little wonder then that the communities based on these religious beliefs express the same attitudes to each other. There are those who seek peaceful coexistence but within their religious doctrines is embedded just the prejudice against the other which fuels hostility and conflict. Religion is not the solution but one of the problems.
The Blackburn case is a classic example of the damage done by religious indoctrination of children. We should get religion out of the schools and give the children a secular education which equips them to assess the rationality or otherwise of religious claims. That will help undermines the horrible tradition of xenophobia that always surrounds these religious racist attitudes.
Some have argued that it was a case of "white flight", white racists moving out of the area rather than share their schools with families with Asian roots. As they allowed their prejudice to guide them out of the area, they simultaneously blamed muslims for taking over their schools. The connection between religion and racism could hardly be more acute.
Blackburn will doubtless have a public and nasty debate about this school but the interests of the children should raise the issue of the damage caused by religion in school. If the school was secular, with no involvement from any religious authority, why would it matter at all what religious beliefs were held by any of the families sending their children there?
Why would there be any issue to argue about at all? Instead of talking about muslim takeover, or forced conversions, there would be an atmosphere of liberation of the children from oppressive religious dogmatism, a flourishing of rational enquiry, a freedom to believe what they wanted. Isn't that what education ought to be about?