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Atheists can be ethical: Anglican archbishop

Amanda O’Brien
From: The Australian
July 31, 2010 12:00AM

PERTH Anglican Archbishop Roger Herft has clashed with his Catholic counterpart over Julia Gillard’s atheism.

He warned it was “unhelpful and untrue” to suggest the Christian faith had a monopoly on moral integrity.

The Anglican leader cautioned against making simplistic assessments of religious beliefs in an election context and said Ms Gillard had assured the electorate she would respect people with religious convictions.

“Any statement which portrays the Christian faith as having some type of exclusivity to be the sole arbiter on matters of moral integrity and just policy-making are unhelpful and untrue,” Archbishop Herft told The Weekend Australian.

“Christians need to remind themselves that those who do not profess the Christian faith are still capable of adopting an ethical and moral framework which assists in public policy decision-making for the common good.”

The comments follow controversial statements this week by Perth Catholic Archbishop Barry Hickey, who suggested Ms Gillard’s atheism could cost her votes.

The Catholic Church leader said he was not telling people not to vote for Ms Gillard, but some would wonder what the future held under an atheist and it might influence their votes.

“Many Christians are concerned that someone who does not believe in God may not endorse the Christian traditions of respect for human life, for the sanctity of marriage and the independence of churches, church schools and church social welfare agencies,” Archbishop Hickey said. But Archbishop Herft — who believes election campaigns have become so vicious they may tarnish the nation’s soul — said believers and non-believers alike should be embraced by the church.

He said politicians were influenced by a range of factors, both religious and secular, when making cabinet and parliamentary decisions, but they were drawn to the job out of a desire to serve the common good.

“It is interesting that in the context of an election, those who profess a certain faith and, indeed, those who do not, have their beliefs assessed very simplistically as either a positive or negative influence based on the whim of the day or the policy area to which it is being applied,” he said.

Government may give green light to atheist schools

Plans to set up atheist schools could soon be given the green light by the Government.

Education Secretary Michael Gove says he is open to the idea as part of reforms to his department, according to Premier Radio.

The move comes after high profile anti-faith campaigner Professor Richard Dawkins suggested the idea.

The Education Secretary said he would be “interested” to look at proposals for non-religious schools after Prof Dawkins, author of ‘The God Delusion’, said last month that he approved of the idea of setting up a “free-thinking” school.

Ann Widdecombe, the former Home Secretary who is also a believer, said it is not something that should be opposed.

She told Premier Radio: “If you can set up faith schools, then I think quite obviously you must also be allowed to set up a school that will cater for people whose parents are bringing them up specifically to have no faith.”

Widdicombe added: “I think it is a great pity if somebody is brought up that way, but our job is to win those people over, not to look to the law to do it for us.”

Addressing the House of Commons education select committee, Mr Gove said parents opposed to faith-based schools should be given more opportunities to educate their children in the way they want in the state education system.

Around a third of the 21,000 state primary (elementary) and secondary modern (high schools) in England are currently faith schools. The majority are Anglican or Roman Catholic, with small numbers of Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and Hindu schools.

By UK law, all other schools must provide religious education and stage a compulsory Christian assembly every day, although parents have the power to withdraw their children from attending.

via christiantoday.com