This is the third in a series of anonymous case studies from parents, teachers and others who have approached the British Humanist Association (BHA) to help deal with how the education of their children has been unfairly disrupted, or even damaged, by religion in the state school system.
Although learning about religion can be a useful part of a child’s education, it should not be acceptable for religious beliefs to be taught as objective truth or to be delivered in a manner to try to change pupils’ personal beliefs. A prominent example is with creationism which some religious groups want taught alongside (or even instead of) evolution in science classes, despite near-unanimous academic support for evolution and rejection of creationism. Below is an example of a Christian group which goes into schools and promotes their extreme views about miracles and creation.
A parent tells us of how her son’s community secondary school invited the group as part of their ‘Christianity day’. No warning or request for consent was sent to parents in advance and, as a community school, the school did not have a religious character. The parent decided to research the group and saw that its objectives included ‘to present…Christianity to all pupils, challenging them to live life in the way the creator intended’. Believing that it is inappropriate for, as the parent said, ‘teaching sessions to be given over to an evangelical organisation whose aims are not educational, but missionary’, she decided to sit in on the last session. What the parent saw was as follows:
‘Overall my impressions were that although the day did include some learning about Christianity facts and beliefs appropriate in an RE curriculum, but a large amount was something more akin to the content delivered within a Christian youth group or Sunday school. The session I attended was a quiz between houses which got the pupils into a state of high excitement, seeking to get the ‘right’ answers in order win points for their team. This included being encouraged to ‘share’ as true the accounts of healing miracles which they had been told about during the day. In answering a question on the origins of the universe, the lead presenter said, “Some Christians believe that the world is 6,000 years old, others think it is much older. I am not sure, myself. I don’t think science will ever be able to tell us for certain”. He also said, “Did dinosaurs live at the same time as humans? There are good arguments on both sides.”’
BHA Education Campaigns Officer Richy Thompson commented, ‘There are dozens of groups which are invited into schools – often those without a religious character, as well as ‘faith’ schools – to provide an educational service but also use the opportunity to promote their own faith. This is not only greatly disrespectful to the beliefs of the children and their parents but it can be damaging to children’s education if scripture is taught as fact to them, particularly at an age where they are not always capable of discerning the difference.’
The BHA works hard to promote the teaching of a broad and balanced RE curriculum in schools, which it feels is an important way for children to learn about beliefs of others, including non-religious people such as humanists. However, the BHA does not support ‘confessional’ RE where instead children are instructed in a particular religion in a highly subjective way. Outside speakers can be constructive but the school should be sure that their aims are purely educational and they are not aiming to proselytise, and ensure a diversity of beliefs are taught.
For further comment or information, please contact Richy Thompson on 020 7462 4993.
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.