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Government uses UK’s ‘Christian heritage’ to justify collective worship in schools

The Education Bill was debated in the House of Lords yesterday, and humanist peers argued for abolishing English state schools’ requirement to hold a daily act of collective worship of a broadly Christian character. However, concerns were dismissed by the Government, who argued that the current system was ‘sufficiently flexible’ in allowing parents to withdraw their children, and referred to the country’s ‘Christian heritage’. Lord Hill of Oareford, the Department for Education’s minister in the Lords responsible for schools, also cited last year’s Integrated Household Survey, which found that, when asked ‘What is your religion, even if you are not currently practising?’, 71% of the population said Christian.

Currently, all state-funded schools are required to hold a daily act of collective worship. This is usually of a broadly Christian character, though a school can apply to make this of some other faith.

BHA Faith Schools Campaigns Officer Richy Thompson commented, ‘The United Kingdom is not a Christian country, but a country with a diverse population subscribing to a variety of religious and non-religious beliefs. Furthermore, it is not a very adherent country – the 2009 British Social Attitudes Survey found that only 11% of the population attends an act of religious worship weekly, and only 17% monthly. Nor is it a country that wants its children to be more adherent – in July 2010, a YouGov poll commissioned by the Accord Coalition found that 43% of the population supported replacing collective worship – even in ‘faith’ schools – with inclusive assemblies, while just 30% opposed. To require all English schools to hold a daily act of collective worship, with the default position being that all pupils will attend, is therefore out of step with the reality of the country today.’

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact Richy Thompson on 020 7462 4993.

Read the BHA’s briefing for the Lords Committee Stage of the Education Bill.

Read the House of Lords debate, Education Bill Committee (Day 7).

Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on Collective Worship.

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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