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Coalition of groups call upon Scottish Government to allow pupils to withdraw from collective worship in schools

A coalition of Scottish charities and youth representatives, coordinated by Humanist Society Scotland (HSS), has written to the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Education calling for young people to have the right to withdraw themselves from religious observance in state schools. Religious observance, known as collective worship in the rest of the UK, is compulsory in all publicly funded schools. Humanists UK has echoed the call, saying that the UK, Welsh, and Northern Irish Government should also look to repeal the requirement for collective worship, and replace it with a requirement for inclusive assemblies.

In an open letter to John Swinney MSP, HSS, the Scottish Youth Parliament, LGBT Youth Scotland, Together – Scottish Alliance for Children’s Rights, and the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations are calling upon the Scottish Government to honour its commitment to uphold the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, including the right for children to choose their religion or belief. Part of this commitment would mean to allow children the right to independently withdraw from religious worship in schools. Currently, in Scotland and Northern Ireland children are not permitted to withdraw unless they have parental permission. In England and Wales they are only able to do so once they are 18. The groups are also publishing new polling conducted by Survation showing that 67% of Scottish people are supportive of children and young people being able to make their own decisions about partaking in religious observance.

Northern Ireland Humanists (which is part of Humanists UK) has been running the campaign ‘Let Pupils Choose‘ to similarly give pupils the choice about whether to attend collective worship. Across the UK, Humanists UK ultimately wants to see collective worship or religious observance scrapped and replaced with a requirement for inclusive assemblies. In England and Wales, this move has been supported by all of the teaching unions, most national religious education bodies, most national religious bodies, and the Local Government Association, as well as most of the population.

Humanists UK Education Manager Jay Harman commented, ‘We wholly support the rights of children and young people to choose whether they partake in religious observance or collective worship. This right is respected for everyone else, so why should it not be for young people too? Ultimately we want to see the current law requiring collective worship replaced with a requirement for inclusive school assemblies across all parts of the UK. These assemblies should delve into different religious and non-religious points of view. But no-one should be subject to forced worship or proselytism in any school..’


For further comment or information please contact Humanists UK Campaigns Officer Rachel Taggart Ryan at or on 0207 324 3060.

Read more about our campaign work on collective worship:

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.

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