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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Catholic Schools Seek to Usurp Students’ Human Rights

Catholic educators are opposing the Government’s proposal to allow students over 16 to withdraw themselves from Collective worship, despite a parliamentary committee saying that forced worship is a breach of their human rights.

The Catholic Education Service have claimed: “When you choose a religious school, Collective Worship and RE Lessons are ‘part of the package’”. They made this statement in full knowledge that a report of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) expressed their expert opinion that it was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights to deny older pupils the right to opt themselves out of Collective Worship – and of Religious Education too.

Dr Evan Harris MP, Lib Dem member of the JCHR said: “Freedom of - or from - religious worship is a fundamental freedom for those old enough to make their own decisions and such human rights do not end at the school gates. State schools should not be dragooning young people into prayer against their will, regardless of how important the school authorities believe it to be.

"The Select Committee made it very clear that state schools have a duty to respect the freedom of conscience of students, and if the Government continues to allow faith schools to opt out respecting that then they will run into legal challenges and lose. I believe that schools are for teaching and learning, not for proselytising and forced worship".

Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society, which is campaigning for this change in the law, said: “The Catholic Education Service appears to think that religious schools should be exempt from the duty to apply human rights in its schools. But these are publicly-funded institutions and human rights are universal. There can be no exemptions, and especially not for religious bodies, who, history has shown, are not above abusing human rights.”

He added: “Some children have no alternative to go to religious schools because they are the only ones in their area – particularly in rural locations. They may also have been admitted at the behest of their parents, whose religious views they may not share. Young people must be given the opportunity to exercise their own conscience, and not depend on their parents to make the decision for them.”

The right of parents to withdraw their children from Worship and RE was introduced in 1944, decades before the Human Rights Act, and the RCs appear even to be saying that they want to abolish this right, which is being steadily eroded by religious schools throughout the country.

See also: Letter from NSS to Minister prompting JCHR to consider the issue, para 3.


Published Wed, 16 Aug 2006