On a visit to East Germany in 1985, I met an MP who belonged to the GDR's Christian Democratic party. I was part of a group who were also meeting Quakers who found it difficult to practice their beliefs. Now, you might have assumed that Eastern European countries were all one-party states. But in East Germany, they had preserved the illusion of democracy by allowing the German CDU and liberals to continue, so long as they voted with the communists on all matters. And by the eighties, they just about tolerated religion, so long as it was private; and religious people could not expect senior posts in the country.
I was reminded of this as I listened to the bizarre proposals being put forward by the secularist lobby group, Accord, which wants faith schools to stop admitting any of their co-religionists by right and to stop employing co-religionists on the staff . In short, it wants to do everything possible to emasculate faith schools except in their name and those who run them. In fact, faith schools are far better at helping poorer pupils to achieve their potential than other schools, even if they have marginally fewer pupils on free school meals. Irish Catholics were able to make their mark in Britain thanks to Catholic schools; other religions deserve the same chance.
But the secularist lobby - which often coincides with those opposed to Academies on the bizarre grounds that they turn sink schools into genuine comprehensives by daring to attract a proportion of middle class parents - will have none of this. Sameness is all that matters; the ethos means nothing. Nor does the fact that new faith schools now must leave 25% of places - a fair proportion - for those outside their faith. Often faith schools exceed that goal, but it is absurd to suggest that where there are limited school places for a particular faith, there should be no faith criteria. By all means, let's ensure a fair intake among applicants of faith, who belong to all social classes. But let's not abolish some of our best schools by ideological stealth.