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Parent complaints force Church of England school to stop Christian group proselytising to children

A Church of England school in Kent has been forced to stop a Christian group from delivering assemblies and lessons to its pupils after parents complained about their children being exposed to ‘a potentially damaging ideology’. Humanists UK, which campaigns against the privileged position given to religion in schools, has stood by the parents, and called for a ‘national conversation’ about religious influence and evangelising in the education system.

In a letter to parents, the headteacher of St John’s Church of England Primary School in Tunbridge Wells, Dan Turvey, stated that ‘After careful consideration I have decided that we will end our regular commitment to CrossTeach and that they will no longer lead assemblies or take lessons.’ However, he said he was ‘deeply saddened’ by the move.

The group of parents responsible for the complaint claimed that their concerns had not been addressed by the school for several months, and in a statement said:

We recognise and respect the school’s Christian values but think there is a brand of Christianity that is abusing that respect. The basis of [our] complaint relates purely to concerns over the welfare and safeguarding of children who we believe are being exposed to potentially damaging ideology.’

One parent, quoted in the Guardian, said that her son had been told in an assembly that ‘men can’t marry men’, while another, quoted in the Telegraph, said that children had been taught that if they did not believe in God ‘they would not go to a good place when they died’.

In a statement released today through the evangelical pressure group Christian Concern, Crossteach said ‘we teach mainstream Christianity’, and no complaints of ‘extremist’ beliefs had been made against them in the past. The group also revealed that it has been allowed by the school to continue running an after-school club.

Despite being a church school, many of the families at St John’s are not religious, owing to the fact, as one parent put it, that ‘in Tunbridge Wells the vast majority of primary schools are affiliated with the church so it’s not like you have a choice whether you expose your children to this.’

Humanists UK Education Campaigner Jay Harman commented, ‘This is a very clear illustration of just how problematic the privileged place of religion in our state education system can be. Given that our laws allow religious organisations, and indeed faith schools themselves, to proselytise to children, cases like this are not at all surprising. In fact, we get contacted by parents every week with concerns about the way in which religion is being foisted on their children, entirely within the law, both at schools with no religious character and at faith schools that they had no choice but to attend.

‘Much of the attention on this story will no doubt focus on the specific message that Crossteach seeks to convey, but in our view a national conversation needs to be had about the appropriateness of evangelising in schools at all, irrespective of how “mainstream” or “extreme” that evangelising is. We absolutely stand by the parents in this case, and hope that their example will encourage both the Government and other schools alike to end the inappropriate and distasteful religious proselytising that continues to pervade our education system.’

Notes

For further comment or information please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Jay Harman on 02073243078 or jay@humanism.org.uk.

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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