Church of Scotland persecuted Travellers.

Here's a link to an article I wrote for Scotland On Sunday last week. The piece is about the Church of Scotland admitting it persecuted Travellers and was complicit in the forced removal of Traveller children who were sent abroad away from their families.

Kirk admits it persecuted Travellers




'In 1533, King James V issued a decree banning Gypsies from Scotland'




Published Date: 15 May 2011

By Billy Briggs



THE Church of Scotland is to admit its complicity in the persecution of Travellers and forcibly removing children from Travelling families and sending them abroad.

A report to be presented to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland next week is damning about the discrimination suffered by the Travelling community and the role that clergymen played.

The Scottish Churches Racial Justice Group (SCRJG) says Travellers have been "vilified" since medieval times and that it "deplores the churches' historic failure to stand alongside a minority group facing discrimination and even persecution".

The study says the Kirk was involved in social engineering through the segregation of children from mainstream society by setting up special schools for 'Tinkers' in Perthshire.

Ministers were also present when some youngsters were forcibly taken from their families and sent to Australia and Canada during the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s.

The report makes a raft of recommendations and urges the government and local authorities to improve provisions for modern-day Travellers, respect their culture and protect them from further discrimination. 

The ecumenical group wrote the report in response to a campaign by Travellers seeking acknowledgement of past injustices and it backs their call for recognition in law as a distinct ethnic group. 

The authors said there was no evidence of institutional discrimination within the Church of Scotland and that historically churches reflected societal attitudes. However, they added that some members were guilty of discrimination and that churches had failed to challenge them. 

The report will be presented to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland which begins on Saturday.

It concludes: "SCRJG would like to invite churches in Scotland to give consideration to how they can work to challenge the pernicious evils of discrimination, prejudice and harassment that Travelling people in Scotland continue to experience and to accord them the same level of respect that every member of society is entitled to receive."

The findings were welcomed by human rights group Amnesty International but a spokeswoman for the Travelling community said the report fell short of an official apology. 

Jess Smith, a poet and author who describes herself as a "Tinker", said ministers were heavily involved in the removal of children from Tinker families.

She added: "My late father, Charlie Reilly, was about seven or eight years old when he witnessed a woman in Logierait, Perthshire, having her three bairns taken from her by two policeman, a woman and a church minister whom he always called 'The Black Collar'. 

"He said the woman was pleading with them to allow her to feed the bairns and throwing herself in front of the police. The woman was so distraught that she later drowned herself in the River Tummel.

"My father wrote a book – which he could never get published – called The White Nigger and he told us some terrible stories."

John Watson, Scottish programme director for Amnesty International, said: "The Church of Scotland is to be commended for adopting the mature and responsible approach of addressing its past failings, as the first step towards a more positive role in the future." 

The SCRJG report says Travellers have endured centuries of human rights violations. In 1533, King James V issued a decree banning Gypsies from Scotland saying they should "depart forth of this realme with their wifis, bairns and companies."

In 1838, the Church of Scotland set up a committee for the "Reformation of Gypsies" and during the 1930s special schools were set up, including Aldour Tinker School near Pitlochry. 

 Thanks for your time.

Billy Briggs.


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