The National Secular Society (NSS) has urged East Lothian Council to end voting privileges for unelected religious appointees, calling them “undemocratic, unrepresentative and unjustified”.

The NSS backed calls to end the voting powers of the religious representatives appointed to the council’s education and children’s services committee, in response to a consultation which opened last Monday.

The committee is made up of 12 elected members (councillors) and three unelected members: two religious appointees, the Rev Gerry Sheridan from the Catholic Church and Mr Ray Lesso from the Church of Scotland, as well as one trade union representative, Gael Gillan. All members of the committee have full voting rights on matters affecting education policy.

East Lothian Council is now considering whether to remove the voting rights of unelected members and is consulting to obtain views.

Councils across Scotland are increasingly questioning the appropriateness of religious representatives.

In August, the City of Edinburgh Council became the fifth Scottish council this year to move to end voting powers for religious representatives. Orkney Council and Highland Council voted to remove these privileges in May, followed by Fife Council and Stirling Council in June.

A consultation on the matter is currently live on the East Lothian Council website and closes next Friday (November 10).

In its response to the consultation, the NSS said that reserving a special role in policymaking for representatives of specific religious institutions excluded the majority of Scottish citizens based on their religion or belief and “clearly runs counter to principles of equality”.

Megan Manson, NSS head of campaigns, said: “Religious appointees on councils are undemocratic, unrepresentative and unjustified.

“No one should be granted a privileged place in local democracy just because of their religion. If Scotland is to be a country where all citizens irrespective of background have an equal chance to participate in decision-making, it cannot give select groups a privileged role.

“While it remains a legal duty to appoint religious representatives, councils should exercise their power to remove the voting privileges of religious appointees.

“Increasing numbers of councils are questioning the archaic requirement to appoint religious representatives; this year alone, five voted to remove their voting powers. We urge East Lothian Council to follow suit.”

Scottish Green councillor Shona McIntosh expressed support for the group’s call.

She said: “There is no question that it is valuable to have a range of voices and perspectives on the education committee – in fact. I would like to see this extended in East Lothian to include pupil representation too.

“However, I don’t think it is fitting in a modern society that certain church groups should be able to influence the outcomes of votes in local government.

“For that reason, I support the National Secular Society’s campaign and welcome the consultation as a positive step.”

However, the Church of Scotland has defended the current position, stating that the committee’s religious appointees were rarely asked to vote on political policies.

A Church of Scotland spokesperson said: “The church has a distinctive call and duty to every person in Scotland, whether or not they are Christian or a member.

“Through our extensive provision of youth and children’s workers, the care and dedication of school chaplains and our comprehensive safeguarding policies and culture, we always put the welfare of children and young people first.

“Church representatives have a wealth of expertise and experience, and seek to be good community partners and offer support and encouragement.

“Very few matters come to a vote and our representatives do not usually choose to vote on matters of policy or of a political nature.”

Meanwhile, Archbishop Leo Cushley, the Catholic Bishop for the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh, said: “This decision is another step in a process to remove faith education from schools in Scotland.

“Church representatives are valuable members of local authority education committees and their position is enshrined in law.

“To deprive them of voting rights, when they represent both the Catholic Church and families, of all faiths and none, who make an active choice of Catholic education, will cause local constituents to question the commitment of East Lothian Council to the future of Catholic schools.”

A council spokesperson said: “A consultation on this issue is open until November 10 to gather a wide range of views and we would encourage people to take part via our online hub. The results of the consultation will be subject to a future report to council at which elected members will decide on the matter.”

Go to to fill out the consultation.