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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Meeting with Education Minister on Collective Worship and Employment

Education Minister Lord Hill received a delegation on 12 October from NSS Honorary Associates Lord Avebury and Baroness Turner and NSS Executive Director Keith Porteous Wood. They discussed amendments both peers had tabled in the Education Bill. These sought to dilute the law requiring compulsory collective worship with mandatory attendance and to reduce the discrimination currently permitted by the law against non-religious teachers or those of a religion other than that practised by the school.

Accompanying Keith was a partner from a prominent firm of City lawyers. The Minister had courteously fielded a comprehensive team to respond to our questions: five lawyers, a collective worship specialist and a secretary.

The meeting was good natured, but intense and lengthy, and we provided the government with a great deal of food for thought. We brought copious evidence of the unpopularity of collective worship and of the law being widely flouted. As we told the Minister, England and Wales are the only Western democracies we can find where such worship is mandatory in community schools. Keith also formally presented the Minister with a dossier of five legal opinions backing up our contention that the current law on teachers in religious schools is in breach of the EU Employment Directive.

While the Government gave no indications that it was conceding the points we made, it did undertake to consider our points and agreed to ongoing dialogue on complex legal issues over employment.

Since the meeting, Lord Avebury and Baroness Turner have tabled amendments covering both matters for the Report stage debate in the House of Lords.

Published Fri, 21 Oct 2011