Discrimination against Scots non-religious young people

July 11, 2016

Humanist Society Scotland has submitted a response to Human Rights Check UK, ahead of the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review of the UK.

In response to the call for evidence from the British Institute for Human Rights, the Humanist Society Scotland has submitted evidence about the ongoing discrimination faced by non-religious children and young people in Scotland in relation to their rights to opt-out of religious observance.

School Prayers Header
HSS highlighted that pupils in Scotland are unable to opt-out of religious observance, unlike pupils in England and Wales.

The submission comes only weeks after the Scottish Government confirmed to the Humanist Society that it would not be issuing updated guidance on religious observance, despite several high-profile reports – including one from the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child – called specifically for changes.

Humanist Society Scotland campaigns against religious observance in Scottish schools, and has previously issued a joint call for reform with the Church of Scotland.

Earlier this year the Scottish Government ruled out making any changes to the guidance issued on religious observance, even after the publication of several substantial reports called specifically on the Scottish Government to take action.

Despite repeated urging to change its guidance by HSS, the Scottish Government guidance still does not allow pupils to withdraw themselves from religious observance without parental permission.

A recent High Court judgement in England even went on to say that “an opt­-out is not an adequate substitute for the provision of an educational programme which accords the Parents their right to respect for their convictions“.

In March 2016 HSS wrote to the Scottish Government to request further clarification on the legal position of senior pupils who wish to withdraw themselves from religious observance.

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

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.

Why does this matter?

The Universal Period Review (UPR) is the process used by the United Nations Human Rights Council to monitor and record the human rights records of all 193 member states of the United Nations. Each member state is reviewed around every five years. The UPR process is overseen by a Working Group consisting of 47 member-states.

The objectives of the process are:

  1. The improvement of the human rights situation on the ground
  2. The fulfilment of the State’s human rights obligations and commitments and assessment of positive developments and challenges faced by the State
  3. The enhancement of the State’s capacity and of technical assistance, in consultation with, and with the consent of, the State concerned
  4. The sharing of best practice among States and other stakeholders
  5. Support for cooperation in the promotion and protection of human rights
  6. The encouragement of full cooperation and engagement with the HRC, other human rights bodies and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

The UPR process incorporates several reports from, among many others, the Government of the member-state, other UN bodies and civil society organisations. The HSS’s response will be fed into the civil society report that the BIHR is completing.

For more information, see the website of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

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