Legal Action Threatened Over Religion In Schools

The National Secular Society says that it will consider legal action against the Government if it fails to follow the advice of its Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR), which, in a report published today, is urging that pupils mature and intelligent enough to make a decision should be able to exempt themselves from Collective Worship and Religious Education.

NSS Executive Director Keith Porteous Wood said that he welcomed the JCHR’s recommendation, commenting: “Around two thirds of secondary school students do not define themselves as religious and their freedom of conscience – guaranteed in every human rights charter to which the UK is a signatory – is being violated by the Government. School children are a captive audience for both Collective Worship and Religious Education. For those of sufficient maturity to make up their own minds that they do not want to take part, as the law currently requires them to do, their Human Rights are clearly being violated.”

Mr Porteous Wood said that his organisation was often approached by parents who were outraged that their children were effectively forced to worship - sometimes against their own and their child’s carefully considered values. “This would not be tolerated in any other context,” said Mr Wood. “We will look out for a suitable case of a pupil mature enough to make their own decision and consider challenging the Government on the issue.”

The JCHR move follows renewed representations by the NSS. As a direct result of previous pressure in 2006, pupils over 16 were permitted to withdraw themselves from Collective Worship for the first time (Section 55 Education & Inspections Act 2006). The Government failed to follow similar recommendations then from the JCHR on withdrawal from RE and permitted withdrawal from CW only for over 16s.

14 May 2008