Joint call to Scottish Government to respect youth choice on religion and belief in schools

  • A coalition of major Scottish charities and youth voices have called for action in a letter to the Cabinet Secretary for Education
  • New polling figures released alongside letter reveal over two thirds of Scots support change to the law
  • A UN report recommended the Scottish Government “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.”

A coalition of Scottish charities and youth representatives have written to the Cabinet Secretary for Education calling for young people’s rights to be respected when it come to religion in school.

picture of John Swinney

John Swinney, the Cabinet Secretary for Education received the joint letter calling for action

This follows a campaign, led by the Humanist Society, to respect young people’s right to choose if they attend religious services during school hours.

The open letter, attached below, to John Swinney MSP is jointly from Humanist Society Scotland, Scottish Youth Parliament, LGBT Youth Scotland, Together – Scottish Alliance for Children’s Rights and Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations. The call is also supported by the Children and Young People’s Commissioner for Scotland, Bruce Adamson, who is making separate supporting representations to ministers.

Polling figures by Survation, commissioned by Humanist Society Scotland, reveal that over two thirds (67%) support allowing young people to choose.


Commenting on the joint action Gordon MacRae, Chief Executive of Humanist Society Scotland said:

Gordon MacRae, Humanist Society Chief Executive

“Given that 2018 is the Scottish Government’s Year of Young People, we can’t think of any better way to start the year than John Swinney confirming that he will respect young people’s rights on freedom of religion and belief.

“The Scottish Government have properly placed universal rights at the heart of their plans for social security, health and justice. However when it comes to education there is a danger that ministers are talking the talk, but not walking the walk on young people’s right to freedom of thought, belief and religion.”



Amy Lee Fraioli, Chair of the Scottish Youth Parliament (SYP), said:

“At SYP, we believe all young people have the right to determine, for themselves, whether they wish to opt out of religious observance in school.

Picture of Amy Lee Fraioli

Amy Lee Fraioli, Chair Scottish Youth Parliament

“Under the United Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), the right of the child to freedom of thought, conscience and religion is protected, and by forcing Scotland’s young people to participate in religious observance, this right is being flouted.

“SYP’s new national campaign, Right Here, Right Now, will focus on making Scotland’s young people not only aware of their rights, but empowered to defend them. The campaign calls on policymakers to ensure young people’s rights are at the forefront of the decision-making process, and will also call for the incorporation of the UNCRC into Scots law, ensuring these rights – including that of religious freedom – are fully enshrined.

“SYP is proud that Members of the Scottish Youth Parliament (MSYPs) follow all faiths, and none, and we believe that forcing anyone to participate in a practice against their will is not only unjust but a flagrant breach of their human rights.”


picture of Fergus McMillan

Fergus McMillan, CEO LGBT Youth Scotland

Fergus McMillan, Chief Executive of LGBT Youth Scotland said:

“We believe that children and young people’s rights, articulated in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), should be fully realised in Scotland. No child or young person should be forced to take part in religious observance in school settings; they have their own thoughts, opinions and beliefs which should be considered and respected.”



Juliet Harris, Director of Together (Scottish Alliance for Children’s Rights) said:

“Together (Scottish Alliance for Children’s Rights) welcomes the range of recent Scottish Government commitments to further children and young people’s rights. 

picture of Juliet Harris

Juliet Harris, Director Together Scotland

“In supporting proposals to give children equal protection from violence, increasing the age of criminal responsibility and conducting an audit of UNCRC implementation, the Scottish Government is progressing a number of recommendations made by the UN in 2016.

“We hope that the Cabinet Secretary will build on this welcome progress by giving children and young people the right to choose if they attend Religious Observance in schools in line with the UN’s recommendation.”


John Downie, Director of Public Affairs at the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) said: 

picture of John Downie

John Downie, Director of Public Affairs SCVO

“The idea of compulsory religious observance in school settings is archaic and ignores the fact that many people in Scotland are of no faith. You need only look at the Scottish Youth Parliament to see that society is changing and passionate, empowered young people are now more engaged and involved in decisions affecting their lives.

“Of course, we recognise the benefit of learning about religious and cultural practises from all quarters, but compulsory observance surely has no place in our education system. It is now time to recognise the individual values of children and young people in Scotland and respect their right to choose to opt out of religious observance in state schools.”

In the letter the authors call for the Scottish Government to follow the recommendation of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child to allow children and young people the right to choose if they attend religious services during the school day. Currently parents and guardians can withdraw their children, but pupils, including those 16 and 17, are banned from exercising their own choice.



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