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Disappointment as Welsh Government refuses to act on collective worship during current Assembly term

Wales Humanists has expressed its disappointment over the Welsh Government’s announcement that it will take no action to amend the law on compulsory collective worship during the current Assembly term.

In a statement to the Senedd Petitions Committee, the Welsh Minister for Education Kirsty Williams said that the issue is ‘highly complex’ and any decision to abolish collective worship would require extensive consultation with the public as well as a change to primary legislation. She said the Government must instead prioritise changes to the new curriculum, however she acknowledged that statutory collective worship raises many human rights concerns, including children’s rights, and that if she personally was ‘starting from a blank piece of paper,’ she would be unlikely to ‘enshrine the law in the way it currently is’.

The Petitions Committee discussed the Government’s progress to a petition to abolish the legal requirement for all state schools in Wales, including those without a religious character, to carry out daily acts of collective worship that are of a ‘broadly Christian character.’ It was first tabled by two Welsh schoolgirls more than two years ago.

Wales Humanists campaigns for the requirement for collective worship to be repealed, and replaced by a requirement for inclusive assemblies, which forward the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of all pupils, without discriminating against any on the basis of their religion or non-religious beliefs.

Using evidence from Wales Humanists, Jack Sargeant AM questioned Ms Williams, asking how she would ‘respond to the view of Wales Humanists that statutory Christian worship contradicts the [explicitly inclusive] ethos of the new curriculum to ensure that learners become ethical citizens of Wales and the world.’ She maintained that worship and the curriculum are distinct and that changes to the RE curriculum, including renaming the subject and explicitly involving humanists in the bodies that produce local RE syllabuses would mean this aim was satisfied. Former leader of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood AM, then added ‘by making it a Christian assembly [you are saying] that Christianity tops all of the other religions and that undermines the message that you are giving in your religious education…’. Ms Wood has previously led opposition calls to abolish collective worship on the grounds that it is discriminatory.

In England, Humanists UK recently supported two parents, Lee and Lizanne Harris, to take a successful legal challenge against the way collective worship was being conducted at their children’s school. In December, peer and member of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group (APPHG) Baroness Burt tabled a Private Members’ Bill in the House of Lords proposing to scrap compulsory religious worship in schools without a religious character and replace it with inclusive assemblies. The Bill is due to have its first reading on 23 January 2020.

Wales Humanists co-ordinator Kathy Riddick said: ‘We are hugely disappointed that the Welsh Government will take no action on this archaic law which requires a daily act of Christian worship in all state schools in Wales. While the Welsh Government is working hard to make the curriculum more inclusive, including in RE, it is a seriously missed opportunity to exclude collective worship from these reforms. The retention of the collective worship law sends mixed messages about which beliefs matter, and enforces Christianity on pupils in assembly, threatening the rights to freedom of religion and belief of pupils and their families.

‘We urge the Welsh Government to reconsider its position and replace statutory worship with inclusive assemblies that are not only suitable for all children irrespective of background but fully support the content of the new curriculum in a consistent way.’

NOTES:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK press manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3078 or 07393 344293.

Read more about Leanne Wood’s position on collective worship.

Read more about the Private Members Bill on inclusive assemblies.

Read more about the collective worship court case supported by Humanists UK.

Wales Humanists is part of Humanists UK. Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

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