It is with monotonous regularity, that the topic of faith-based education makes its way on to the pages of our newspapers and our television screens. Most recently this was occasioned by a call from a group of Muslim parents in Glasgow for state funding for a Muslim faith school.

When asked for a response, the Church’s Education Director made it clear we support denominational education and would of course support wider forms of denominational provision, where there is public demand and where the management and regulation of such schools is in accord with national guidance and practice.

Surprisingly, although we live in a pluralistic and diverse society, increasingly occupied with promoting and defending diversity, in the sphere of education some very shrill voices spend a great deal of time screaming for conformity. In a society of many races, faiths and identities, shouldn’t institutions like our police service, our political system and our education system reflect and embrace that difference and diversity?

Usually it is the tribunes of what has come to be known as “aggressive secularism” who call for the rigid imposition of a one-size-fits-all educational straitjacket in the face of academic success and parental choice. This type of intolerant secularism is a far cry from what should be an utterly innocuous principle, instead, it decries accommodation and co-existence and seeks the removal of all vestiges of religion and belief from the public square. Last year a press release from one of Scotland’s secular societies, described denominational schools as “educational apartheid”. Hardly an example of respectful and tolerant engagement.

Such totalitarianism subverts true secularism, and trashes the principle of plurality too. The apparently compulsory conformity required on issues as divergent as abortion, homosexuality and euthanasia amongst secular society members also seems quite chilling.

Certainly, the rigorously enforced orthodoxies of Scottish secularism seem far more dogmatic than any religious creed I’ve ever encountered. Apostasy and dissent from them presumably leads to dismissal, since we never seem to hear from Scottish secularists who oppose secular society diktats on any moral or ethical matters.

Yet, if true freedom of religion and belief is to exist and flourish in Scottish society perhaps we should remind ourselves of the fulsome words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, where Article 18 comprises a ringing endorsement of true and meaningful freedom, the type which Scottish secularists seem so intent on destroying: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

Then we might ask, with such a rousing universal standard in mind, isn’t it time we expanded faith schools, so our education system truly reflects our plural society?

Why, for example, should tax-paying parents who follow a secular humanist belief system be denied the opportunity to have their children educated in accordance with their beliefs?

I’ve yet to meet a parent who believes in “nothing”. Everyone I’ve ever encountered has a set of beliefs of one kind or another, from humanists to Hindus, there is no mythical default setting, no neutral standard of belief that can or should be imposed on all. Accordingly, there can never be an equitable "one size fits all" education system.

Although only a very small number of Scots would endorse a secular humanist belief system that should not disbar them from seeking to have their children educated in accordance with their beliefs. If demand exists and secular humanist schools, were to be managed and regulated in accordance with national guidance and practice, as Catholic schools are, then good luck to them.

Unfortunately, our home-grown secularists seem far more intent on imposing atheism than respecting theism and, as history shows, attacking and suppressing religion leads to a well-worn and bloody path. The violence and bloodshed caused by the ruthless enforcement of state-sponsored atheism is truly chilling in its scale. A study by the University of Bradford of the 32 wars of the 20th century, found just three conflicts had a significant religious dimension. Three-quarters of all the deaths from war in the last century, leading to the deaths of 150 million people, had nothing to do with religion, while tens of millions occurred in societies where atheism was brutally enforced.

In reality, we are far more likely to engender tolerance and respect for diversity, by promoting variety rather than imposing conformity whether in education or across society.

Peter Kearney is director of the Catholic Media Office.