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Council backs down in High Court challenge to exclusion of humanists from local RE body

Kathy Riddick, who is the coordinator for Wales Humanists.

A council in Wales has withdrawn its decision to exclude a humanist representative from the local body responsible for overseeing religious education (RE), following a legal challenge by a local humanist parent. Humanists UK, which supported the challenge, notes that the decision of Vale of Glamorgan Council to withdraw its opposition in the face of legal challenge must surely send a clear message to all other councils across England and Wales that the exclusion of humanists constitutes unlawful discrimination.

Earlier this year Vale of Glamorgan Council decided to deny membership of its standing advisory council on RE (SACRE) to a humanist representative, Kathy Riddick, despite the fact that a number of religious representatives are already members of the SACRE. SACREs are local authority committees required by education law to oversee RE in the local area. Both Ms Riddick, whose children attend schools in the Vale of Glamorgan, and Humanists UK were given permission to challenge the Council’s decision on the grounds that it unlawfully discriminates against humanists and has the effect of relegating non-religious worldviews below religions in a way which fails to comply with the Human Rights Act and European Convention on Human Rights.

Having chosen to withdraw its decision rather than defend it at the High Court, the Vale of Glamorgan will now have to review its policy on humanist membership of the SACRE, and take a fresh decision on the application of Kathy Riddick, which remains open.

The vast majority of SACREs in England and Wales now include a humanist alongside religious representatives, but some, like the Vale of Glamorgan, still refuse membership to humanists, or else only admit humanists as co-opted members without voting rights.

Kathy Riddick, who is also the coordinator of Wales Humanists , commented, ‘I’m glad the Vale of Glamorgan has withdrawn its decision to exclude me from the SACRE, and I hope it signals a more inclusive approach. We have not yet had any guarantee, however, that the council will actually be amending its policy to allow humanists and religious representatives to work alongside each other in improving RE in the area. That, ultimately, is all I want to do, so I hope the Council will now make the right decision.’

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson added, ‘Humanists UK is a founding member of the Religious Education Council of England and Wales, and humanists have always advocated in the strongest terms for the importance of good quality, inclusive education in schools about religious and humanist beliefs. To deny the contribution of humanists, and more broadly the place of humanism itself in RE, can only be to the detriment of the subject and to the detriment of both religious and non-religious pupils alike. We hope that in light of our challenge the Vale of Glamorgan will drop its discriminatory position, and that other SACREs around England and Wales will be prompted to do the same.’

Notes

For further comment or information please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Jay Harman on 0207 324 3078 or jay@humanism.org.uk.  

Kathy Riddick and Humanists UK are being represented by Louise Whitfield of Deighton Pierce Glynn http://www.dpglaw.co.uk/lawyers/louise-whitfield/ and David Wolfe QC https://www.matrixlaw.co.uk/member/david-wolfe/.    

Read Humanists UK’s previous news item ‘Humanist parent in High Court challenge to exclusion from local religious education body’: https://humanism.org.uk/2017/07/19/humanist-parent-in-high-court-challenge-to-exclusion-from-local-religious-education-body/  

Read more about SACREs: https://humanism.org.uk/education/sacres-and-ascs/about-standing-advisory-councils-for-re-sacres/

Read more about Humanists UK’s work on Religious Education: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/school-curriculum/religious-education/

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

Humanists UK recently changed its name from the British Humanist Association: https://humanism.org.uk/2017/05/22/bha-becomes-humanists-uk/

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