Humanists UK has criticised proposed legal action against the introduction of compulsory lessons in relationships as ‘a cynical attempt to deny children their right to an inclusive education and erase LGBT people’, and suggested that, at any rate, it is doomed to fail.
From September, it will be compulsory for primary schools to teach relationships education, with secondary schools required to teach relationships and sex education. Primary schools will be able to teach age-appropriate sex education, but are not legally required to do so, and parents will retain the right to withdraw their children from sex education until the final stages of secondary education.
There will be no right to withdraw from relationships education. This is to ensure all children and young people receive an inclusive education that teaches about different types of family and LGBT people, and also to comply with the Equality Act 2010. Such education will teach about healthy relationships (including friendships) as well as tolerance and acceptance of difference.
However, an anti-RSE campaign group called Let Kids be Kids – set up by the founder of Christian Action, Research and Education (CARE), Charlie Colchester – is threatening to take legal action unless the Government makes this aspect of the curriculum optional. They claim that parents should be able to remove their children from lessons where they might face exposure to ideas that do not fit with their family’s ‘religious and philosophical convictions’. They argue that relationships education, will involve material of a ‘controversial moral nature’ and, as such, amount to a ‘breach of the parents’ rights’ under human rights law.
But this view is incorrect. Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 to the European Convention on Human Rights does say the state must ‘respect the right of parents to ensure… education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions’, but this does not mean that parents are legally permitted to veto every aspect of the curriculum they perceive to be out of line with their beliefs. This is especially the case when that teaching is designed to safeguard the welfare of children and promote values that are conducive to a functioning democratic society, like tolerance of minority groups.
As the judgment in last year’s High Court case about the protests against LGBT inclusive education at Anderton Park Primary School in Birmingham made clear, ‘It is not possible to deduce from the Convention a right not to be exposed to convictions contrary to one’s own’ as long as lessons are ‘critical, objective, and pluralistic’ and avoid indoctrination. Similarly, a European Court of Human Rights case taken against Denmark as far back as 1976 found that compulsory RSE is compatible with parents’ rights around education. And a 2011 case taken against Germany found that the state can fine parents for withdrawing their children from compulsory RSE.
Humanists UK has previously criticised the latest Government guidance on RSE for not going far enough as, when the new rules are introduced, faith schools will still be permitted to teach the subject in line with their religion, and primary schools will not be compelled to teach LGBT content, with the decision about whether to do so left to head teachers.
Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham commented:
‘This threat to bring legal action against compulsory relationships education is nothing more than a cynical attempt to deny children their right to an inclusive education and erase LGBT people from the curriculum. What’s more, it is highly unlikely to be successful. RSE is an objective, fact-based subject which is age-appropriate. It is designed to prepare pupils to have healthy relationships as citizens who are aware of their own rights and those of others in a diverse, modern democracy. Ironically, the only place where this objectivity standard is actually likely to be flouted is in faith schools, which will retain their right to teach the subject from a religious perspective of the kind these campaigners want to uphold.
‘We have fought for many decades for relationships and sex education to be included on the curriculum because this is what all the best evidence says keeps children and young people happy, healthy, and safe. Any move to change or further restrict access to these lessons because of the religion or belief of parents would be a backwards step and a huge blow to the rights of children, particularly those who are or will be LGBT themselves.’
For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 020 7324 3000 or 0772 511 0860.
Read our article about the High Court ban on anti-RSE protesters at Anderton Park Primary School.
Read more about our work on relationships and sex education.
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.