Religious Observance review plans raised at First Minister’s Questions

The Scottish Government’s welcome decision to bring forward a review of the Religious Observance guidance for schools was raised at First Minister’s Questions this week.

Maurice Golden MSP, Conservative member for the West of Scotland, questioned the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon MSP, after it was announced that the Humanist Society and Scottish Government have agreed to ‘pause’ current legal action for three months to allow the Government to bring forward a consultation on new guidance.

The new guidance is expected to be implemented early in the new year, and has been welcomed as a ‘step in the right direction’ by HSS Chief Executive Gordon MacRae.

Maurice Golden MSP asked:
“To ask the First Minister whether optional religious observance in schools for 16 to 18-year-olds will support the values of a diverse and outward-looking Scotland.”

The First Minister, responded:
“Religious observance is a school community activity that offers opportunities for young people to reflect meaningfully on different points of view and values, including their own. It promotes critical thinking and helps young people to become aware of different ideas and beliefs about life. The values of a diverse and outward-looking Scotland are fully supported by that aspect of the school experience, and any decisions about a young person withdrawing from it should involve parents or carers and the young person, especially as that young person grows in maturity and understanding of their own learning.”

Maurice Golden MSP:
“Can the First Minister assure constituents of mine in West Scotland, as well as people beyond it, that within the parameters of any consultation or potentially amended guidance or legislation in respect of the matter, there will be no threat to faith schools and how they choose to deliver education?”

The First Minister responded:
“Nothing in the consultation that has been announced is about faith schools, so I absolutely give that commitment. However, we are, as the member has indicated, considering a consultation on revising the guidance. That principally concerns the issue that has been raised by the Humanist Society Scotland, in a court action that has now sisted, about whether young people can, without the agreement of their parents, withdraw from religious education or observance. We are looking at that issue, and it is right for us to do so. After all, as young people get older, their responsibility for making such decisions clearly becomes enhanced. Of course, that position already exists in England and Wales. We are considering a consultation on that particularly narrow issue.”

You can view the exchange online here (40:16 – 42:12).

Speaking last week after the announcement of the ‘pause’, HSS Chief Executive Gordon MacRae commented:

“It is a step in the right direction that the Scottish Government have agreed to revisit its guidance for schools on the basis of a wider recognition of children’s rights. By agreeing to launch a new consultation Scottish Ministers for the first time are making it possible for young people to have a voice in the process.”


For more information or comment contact Gary McLelland on 07813060713 or

Humanist Society Scotland is the national charity for humanists, atheists, freethinkers and agnostics who seek to live an ethical, rational fulfilling life. We have over 14,000 members and our celebrants conducted more than 3,500 weddings last year.

  1. This news comes only weeks after HSS was given permission to proceed with a Judicial Review on restricted grounds.
  2. See the original letter from the Scottish Government to HSS on 13th June:
  3. HSS and Scottish Ministers jointly moved a motion for a Sist (legal term for ‘pausing’ the legal action) on 3rd November 2016 in the Court of Session, which was approved by Lord Clark.


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