A brief glance at Palestine today, and at the Palestinian Basic Law, highlights the potential existence of a state religion: Islam. Article (5) of the draft constitution states that ‘Arabic shall be the official language and Islam shall be the official religion in Palestine. Christianity, and all other monotheistic religions, shall be equally revered and respected. The Constitution guarantees equality in rights and duties to all citizens irrespective of their religious belief’.
The intention may be to create a ‘tolerant’ atmosphere, whilst maintaining a state religion, but the history of Scotland, and many European countries suggest that when one religion is granted a position of supremacy, sectarian problems within society are developed, and minority religions suffer. The author considers that the concept of ‘secularity’ in France has a de facto position of state religion, leading to extreme attitudes to expression of faith within the public sector.
In the school system in Palestine today, there are many denominational schools that are privately funded. However, at some stage there will be a Palestinian State, and it is desirable that that State design an education system, which is publicly funded. The question must then arise, whether there should be public funding for religious schools in Palestine or not. If so how are the religious schools decided upon? Which religions will be recognised for this purpose?
When considering the European experience it becomes clear that facts behind cultural differences are almost irrelevant. What is relevant is that any schooling system that implements segregation of children, however laudable its professed aims, will perpetuate a climate of discrimination.
For example Scottish history, where most of the religious battles took place within the same or similar confessional theology shows, that internecine disputes will use religion as a tool of conquest. There is no reason to believe that Palestine, with its existing minority religions, the use of religion within the fight for independence and the intertwining of politics and religion in the name of social change, may not ultimately descend into intra- and inter- religious fights.
The state should not create legislative support for such battles.
It is therefore essential to consider today how schools will be organised in Palestine tomorrow. There is no reason why faith cannot be taught in a public school as part of a curriculum where each child follows its own faith in a specific class, but everything else is taught to all students alike (Maths, History, Arabic etc). Segregated schooling is not the only tool for permitting children to learn and practise their religion. Mosques and churches, the home, and faith based extra curricular activities are all methods of passing religion to children. Moreover they are usually more directly under the supervisory control of the parents. Emphasising faith within the education system also precludes those members of society who do not practise any faith, as well as denying space within which to discuss their beliefs.
In conclusion, Palestine cannot exclude undesirable elements of the population as Scotland did with the Covenanters, and presumably it does not want to create an underclass, which the Catholics in Scotland certainly used to be. Islam has been connected to issues of national identity, especially since the intifada, and it is now included in the Basic Law as a State religion as is the case in Scotland and Israel. However, unless the schooling issue is considered very carefully, Palestine may end up segregating Palestinian children within schools and introducing de facto discrimination against numbers of its own citizens. As Scotland shows, once started it is extremely difficult to eradicate.
The same applies for the “Jewish State”.