Government rejects UN guidance on religious observance in schools

June 20, 2016

The Scottish Government has rejected calls to allow school pupils the legal right to opt-out of religious observance in schools.

In a letter recently received from the Scottish Government, it has been confirmed that they have no plans to allow pupils to opt themselves out of religious observance.

In its report (pp.7) the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child states, in respect of religious observance:

‘The Committee recommends that the State party repeal legal provisions for compulsory attendance at collective worship in publicly funded schools and ensure that children can independently exercise the right to withdraw from religious worship at school.’

However the letter received by HSS confirms the Scottish Government’s current policy, that “There is no […] statutory right to withdraw afforded to children and young people.”

This situation in Scotland is different from that in England and Wales, where since 2006 senior pupils have had a legal right to opt themselves out of religious observance.

HSS Chief Executive Gordon MacRae
HSS Chief Executive Gordon MacRae

Commenting on this recent development, Gordon MacRae, HSS Chief Executive said:

“It’s so frustrating for us that we have a Scottish Government who say all the right things when it comes to human rights and the rights of children, but when it comes to making the changes required to enforce these rights there is a lack of motivation.

“We are not talking about a particularly controversial issue here; we’re talking about giving children in Scotland the same legal rights that children enjoy south of the border.

“In the longer term we hope to convince the Scottish Government of the merits of replacing religious observance with a more inclusive alternative, such as Philosophy with Children; but until then we will continue to press for children to have the right to withdraw themselves from religious observance.”


Image Courtesy: Scottish Government, Creative Commons.

Notes: For further information or comment please contact Gary McLelland on gary@humanism.scot or 07813060713.

View the letter from the Scottish Government here: https://www.humanism.scot/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/SG-letter-to-Humanist-Society-of-Scotland-13-June-2016.pdf

The original email sent to the Scottish Government can be viewed here: https://www.humanism.scot/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/LettertoSueLanglands100316.pdf

About HSS:
Humanist Society Scotland seeks to represent the views of people in Scotland who wish to lead ethical and fulfilling lives guided by reason, empathy and compassion. We provide a range of non-religious ceremonies and campaign for a secular state. HSS has over 14,000 members across Scotland.

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