A view of the Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room at the UN headquarters in Geneva. Circular rows of desks are arranged on the floor but most of the picture is taken up by the ceiling artwork, a textured sculpture in a blue, green, orange, and yellow colour wash with stalactite like formations handing down from it.

We tell UN human rights committee that compulsory religious observance in Scottish schools must end

February 19, 2024

We called for pupils in Scotland’s schools to be able to withdraw themselves from religious observance in contributions to two reports submitted to the UN Human Rights Committee. We stated that compulsory religious observance undermines children’s right to freedom of belief. We also pointed out that it was inconsistent with the Scottish Government’s commitment to children’s rights.

The UN Human Rights Committee is currently considering how the UK, including Scotland, is upholding civil and political rights. Every few years, the committee examines how each UN member country is following the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). This document was signed by the UK government in 1976.

We co-authored a response to the committee with our allies at Humanists UK. We also contributed to a submission from Human Rights Consortium Scotland. Our contributions emphasised that compulsory religious observance was inconsistent with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Act 2024. This act ensures that public services in Scotland are delivered in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It was passed by the Scottish parliament in December 2023.

In our submission with Humanists UK, also we called for an end to religious vetting of teachers in denominational schools. And we called for updated guidance to ensure privacy and equal treatment for non-religious jurors. At present, those who choose to make a non-religious affirmation often have to identify themselves by name to court, so many feel pressured to take a religious oath.

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Title image: UN Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room. UN/Creative Commons.

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