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Freedom Bill ‘ideal vehicle to scrap law on compulsory worship in schools’

The Protection of Freedoms Bill, which MPs will be debating for the first time today, is ‘an ideal vehicle’ for the law requiring collective worship in schools to be scrapped, the British Humanist Association (BHA) has commented today.

Following an online consultation, the BHA included the views of ordinary people in its briefing which it distributed widely to MPs to help them prepare for the debate.

In England all state maintained schools are legally required to provide a daily act of collective worship for all of their pupils. In community schools the majority of the acts of daily collective worship provided in a given term are legally required to be of a ‘wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character’. In ‘faith schools’ the act of worship is provided in accordance with the school’s trust deed or the tenets and practices of the religion of the school.

The law is widely unpopular. In November 2010, leading teaching unions and education campaigners joined together with the BHA and religious representatives to call on the Secretary of State for Education, Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, to scrap collective worship in schools and replace it with inclusive assemblies.

While parents have the right to withdraw children from worship – many respondents to the consultation expressed unease at singling out their child for removal. The inability for children under sixteen to withdraw themselves has been criticised by the Joint Committee on Human Rights in 2008 as violating fundamental freedoms.

BHA Education Campaigns Officer Jenny Pennington commented, ‘There is no good argument for retaining a law which compels schools to hold daily acts of worship; a law which infringes on children’s rights and which most secondary schools struggle to observe. We were unsurprised to see many people expressing their desire to have this restrictive law scrapped under the  much vaunted Freedom Bill through the Government’s ‘Your Freedom’ website. It is extremely disappointing therefore that the government has chosen to ignore the wishes of many people by so far failing to include the repeal of the law in the Bill.

‘If the government wishes to free schools from prescriptive legal regimes, then it is difficult to see why the law on collective worship, should not be one of the first laws to be thrown on the bonfire.’

For more information please contact Jenny Pennington jenny@humanism.org.uk or 020 7462 4993.

Just a few reasons to scrap the law on collective worship:

  • It’s widely unpopular: teachers, parents and pupils themselves have repeatedly opposed this legal requirement.
  • It infringes on young peoples’ rights to freedom of belief by forcing them to worship. 
  • Scrapping the law would reduce bureaucracy in schools and unnecessary obligations on hard-pressed teachers.  
  • The law impedes schools’ ability to provide good inclusive assemblies. 
  • The parental right of withdrawal is not a satisfactory solution – most pupils cannot opt themselves out.  
  • Teachers are often put in an invidious position, having to lead acts of worship which may not reflect their own beliefs. 
  • The removal of the compulsory nature of collective worship would not prevent faith schools from holding assemblies which reflect their religious character.  Scrapping the law would simply mean that schools could decide for themselves what kind of assembly is best for their pupils.

Notes

Read our briefing for the Commons Second Reading of the Protection of Freedoms Bill

You can Take Action! on the issue of compulsory collective worship in schools.

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of ethically concerned, non-religious people in the UK. It is the largest organisation in the UK campaigning for an end to religious privilege and to discrimination based on religion or belief, and for a secular state.

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