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Majority support for end to compulsory religious observance in Scottish schools

Calls for an end to compulsory religious observance in schools are growing in Scotland, and around the UK

A majority of people in Scotland believe that children should not be forced to worship in school if they do not want to, a new poll has revealed.

The survey, carried out by YouGov for the Times newspaper, found that 55% of Scots either did not think that any religious observance at all should take place in Scottish schools (38%), or supported the right of children to opt themselves out of religious observance in schools, even without parental consent (17%). Only 35% of respondents to the survey thought that religious observance should be compulsory in all schools with no right of withdrawal for young people.

The British Humanist Association (BHA) has long campaigned on removing the requirement for collective worship in schools throughout the UK and says that this poll is the latest indication of the urgent need for reform.

Currently, religious observance is required in all state schools in Scotland, ‘at least six times in a school year’. In England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, where religious observance is known as collective worship, the requirement is for a daily act of worship, which must either be in line with the faith of the school (in the case of religious schools) or be mainly Christian in character. In England and Wales pupils in sixth form have an independent right of withdrawal from worship, a provision that does not exist in Scotland or Northern Ireland. Nowhere do younger pupils have such rights. Polls have also shown its unpopularity in England, and most religious groups and teaching unions support reform.

The poll follows the announcement in September last year that Humanist Society Scotland (HSS) was legally challenging a decision by the Scottish Government to continue denying children the right to opt out of religious observance. In response to the challenge, HSS and the Scottish Government agreed in November to ‘pause’ the legal action, pending a new consultation on revised guidance for worship in schools. That consultation launched in December, though HSS Chief Executive Gordon MacRae warned that whilst the proposals would be ‘a step in the right direction’, they would not deliver the change in law that is required to protect the rights of young people.

BHA Education Campaigner Jay Harman commented, ‘This poll is just the latest in a long line of evidence and research demonstrating that the requirement for compulsory religious observance in UK schools is discriminatory, anachronistic, and unpopular. We fully support the work of HSS in seeking to defend this basic right of children and young people to freedom of religion or belief, and to protection from being forced to worship a god or gods in which they may or may not believe.

‘The Scottish Government, as well as the governments across the UK, should move immediately not just to ensure a full right of withdrawal for children and young people, but also to repeal the requirement for collective worship, as was recently recommended once again by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.’

Notes

For further comment or information please contact the BHA’s Education Campaigner Jay Harman on jay@humanism.org.uk.

For further details of the poll, read the Times article ‘Take religious out of the classroom’: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/scotland/take-religion-out-of-the-classroom-9j6x06mzw

Read HSS’s news item ‘Humanist Society to challenge the Scottish Government in Court over Religious Observance opt-out’: https://www.humanism.scot/what-we-do/news/humanists-to-challenge-scottish-government-in-courts/

Read the BHA’s previous news item ‘UN Children’s Rights Committee calls for end to compulsory worship in UK schools’: https://humanism.org.uk/2016/06/09/un-childrens-rights-committee-calls-for-end-to-compulsory-worship-in-uk-schools/

Read the BHA’s news item ‘Humanist Society Scotland and Church of Scotland working together for inclusive schools’: https://humanism.org.uk/2014/01/27/humanist-society-scotland-church-scotland-working-together-inclusive-schools/

Read more about the BHA’s work on collective worship: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/collective-worship/

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

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