The council’s education and families committee met today to seek approval for the appointment of religious representatives to the committee.
Education committees are obliged by law to have three religious representatives, one of which must be from the Church of Scotland. Head of legal Jan Riise explained that the other two could be of any other religious group, not necessarily Christian, to reflect the balance of belief in the community.
Church of Scotland minister the Rev Tom Macintyre has already been nominated, and the council proposes to have discussions with Shetland Churches Council Trust and the Shetland Interfaith Group to secure one nomination from the trust and ascertain a method of securing the third.
The situation has arisen with the development of the new committee. In the days of the three large committees there was a forum under the services committee which met very infrequently.
But now attention has been drawn to the need to have the religious representation, which would have voting powers.
Councillor Sandy Cluness said that Shetland was being slowly dragged into the position of being like any other Scottish local authority, rather than being able to have something “more suited” to it.
However he moved that the committee accept the appointment of the religious representatives because it had “no option”. Although he had personal reservations, he conceded that the appointments might bring “fresh views” to the committee. He was seconded by councillor Caroline Miller.
But councillor Jonathan Wills was totally opposed to the appointments, which he said were discriminatory and contravened UN and European human rights legislation. He said the local privilege of the Church of Scotland was “archaic”, and the fact that such a person could vote without being elected was “offensive”. However he stressed that he had nothing against Dr Macintyre, whom he thought would make an excellent councillor.
Dr Wills put forward an amendment that authority should be delegated meantime to the head of legal and chairwoman of the committee Betty Fullerton as part of a forum to see if that would satisfy the law.
Mrs Fullerton said the amendment was “incompetent” and could not be accepted, at which point Dr Wills walked out of the meeting.
Mrs Fullerton, who had earlier declared an interest as a member of the Church of Scotland, said: “The primary duty of the committee is to act within the law.”
Councillor Bill Manson said he would not support a sub-committe or a forum just to get round things as they could end up as “talking shops”.