Time to reflect on children’s freedom of belief in Schools

January 19, 2020

Humanist Society Scotland is calling on headteachers across the country to reflect on World Religion Day (19th January) as to how they meet their pupils’ UNCRC (United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child) Article 14 rights.

Article 14 of UNCRC states that all children and young people are free to be of any or no religion. Despite this, the current rules around religious observance in Scottish schools mean that pupils have no control over whether they attend acts of religious worship. This often means that pupils are required to attend acts of worship when they are not religious or of a different religion to that which is being promoted at religious observance.

Calling for headteachers to ensure that their pupils’ Article 14 rights are met, Humanist Society Scotland Chief Executive, Fraser Sutherland, said:

Religious observance in Scottish schools sees pupil’s Article 14 rights routinely ignored and breached by requiring them to sit through prayers or other religious acts. School leaders need to think seriously about how they respect Article 14 rights in everything they do – and the current practice of religious worship during the school day is failing pupils on a weekly basis.

Professionally delivered religious and moral education by qualified teachers in Scotland gives pupils a good understanding of different faith and belief views. It is correct that such classroom teaching is done in a way that is neutral, fair and balanced and emphasises understanding and cohesion between people of differing faiths and beliefs.

We should put more faith in our professionally trained teachers to deliver the RME curriculum and end the need for pupils to attend prayer sessions with religious leaders during school hours.

Fraser Sutherland, Humanist Society Scotland

Many Scottish primary and secondary schools working towards their Unicef Rights Respecting School Award will discuss Article 14 from the UNCRC in relation to world religions and the similarities between them, in order to promote the need for inter-faith tolerance and understanding. However, in many cases, a school’s own practices on the requirement to attend religious observance mean that they fail to safeguard this right in their own practice.

People can support the campaign to respect Children and Young People’s Article 12 rights in school by signing the My Beliefs, My Choice petition.

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