The British Humanist Association (BHA) has called on the Government to support today’s report from Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights which calls for any child of ‘sufficient maturity, intelligence and understanding’ to be given the right to withdraw from compulsory religious worship in schools. Currently, only sixth form students have the right to withdraw themselves, and other children can only be withdrawn at the request of their parents, but the Human Rights Committee have said that this violates children’s rights to freedom of belief and conscience.
Writing in support of the Committee’s report to Minister for Schools and Learners, Jim Knight MP, the BHA said, ‘ We agree with the JCHR that the law is clearly inconsistent with the European Convention on Human Rights and that children of ‘sufficient maturity, intelligence and understanding’ should be permitted to withdraw themselves from prayer and other worship.
Andrew Copson, BHA Director of Education and Public Affairs, commented, ‘The best situation would be the replacement of the law requiring religious worship with a law requiring inclusive assemblies that would be suitable for all children. For as long as the current law remains, however, children must be allowed to decide for themselves whether they wish to participate. To compel them to pray, or worship in other ways, is a clear interference with their right to freedom of belief – one of the most important rights that we enjoy.
For further comment or info rmation, please contact Andrew Copson by email or telephone 020 7079 3584. The British Humanist Association (BHA) is the national charity representing the interests of the large and growing population of ethically concerned non-religious people living in the UK . The BHA is deeply committed to human rights and advocates an open and inclusive society in which individual freedom of belief and speech are supported by a policy of disinterested impartiality on the part of the government and official bodies towards the many groups within society so long as they conform to the minimum conventions of the society.
The BHA has been involved in education for over forty years and supports the educational value of school assemblies and their role in building shared values and the school community – but without any element of collective worship being necessary or appropriate. A DfES survey of 2004 showed that over 60% of 12-19 year olds said they were not religious and it is a vital part of the BHA’s work to promote beliefs and values education and inclusive assemblies in schools, which will be relevant to this majority of pupils and students.
Read the BHA’s policy on religion and schools A Better Way Forward here .
See humanism.org.uk for information on the BHA’s position on compulsory worship in schools.