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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Fax to Minister for Education and Young People

12th February 2003

Compulsory worship in schools abuses children's rights

The National Secular Society has today submitted its formal response to the Consultation on Religious Observance. We had been encouraged by your statement in November that the Review Group "is keen to ensure that the provision of Religious Observance is an inclusive experience for all pupils, reflecting the variety of religious beliefs and faiths as well as the increasingly secular make-up of today's Scotland". Also, non-religious views seemed to be warmly received at the country-wide meetings, at which it was accepted that worship should no longer be enforced. Such a position, with which we agree, is entirely inconsistent with the retention of mandatory religious observance.

As you are aware, the consultation came about because of widespread disregard of the law on religious observance. The context was that nearly half of pupils and their parents do not have any religious affiliation and, according to independent forecasts, religious observance generally has been in long term decline which will continue. Under these circumstances, for the Review Group to include five members from bodies with religious connections and none coming from a non-religious perspective poses serious questions about whether the Executive's objective was to further reinforce religious observance, despite the wishes of the pupils and their parents.

The approach taken by the Review Group in its own paper bears testimony to the over representation of religious interests. They have pushed their own interests to the full, without even giving passing consideration to the many logical, moral and human rights reasons (listed in our submission) why the compulsion of religious observance/worship is no longer sustainable. They have stretched the meaning of religious observance (for example having recourse to "Stimuli should also be drawn from music, art, drama, poetry, films and television.") to an absurd extent in order to justify, even to excuse, not recommending repeal of mandatory religious observance/worship.

The wording of the questionnaire gives a further clue to the inbuilt bias, for example the question: "What do you think would give schools the maximum opportunity for provision of religious observance?" Conspicuously absent was any question about why respondents thought that there should be no mandatory religious observance/worship at all.

In view of the above, we urge that non-religious views be fully taken into account in framing the recommendations, the relevant circular and in particular the removal of the compulsion contained in Section 8 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980. If this does not happen, we will call for the Group's paper and the results of the current consultation be disregarded and a new, more representative, group be convened. I attach a copy of our Submission and would be pleased to discuss it and this letter with you.

Yours sincerely

Keith Porteous Wood
Executive Director