The Government has rejected a recommendation from the parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) that school pupils of “sufficient maturity and intelligence” should be able to opt out of religious education and collective worship. The National Secular Society has said that it will try to find a case with which to challenge the policy that forces children to worship in schools, even if it is against their conscience.
The JCHR, in its report, says: “As we have said in previous reports, provisions which fail to guarantee a child of sufficient maturity, intelligence and understanding the right to withdraw from compulsory religious education and collective worship are incompatible with the child’s human rights…. We therefore recommend that the Government reconsiders its objection to permitting a child of sufficient maturity and intelligence to withdraw from religious education and takes into account our previously expressed views on this issue. As for religious worship, we recommend that children who are not in the sixth-form but who have sufficient maturity and intelligence, be permitted to withdraw. This could be simply remedied in the Bill by replacing “sixth-form pupil” with “child of sufficient maturity.”
After pressure from the NSS last year, the Government gave 16 year olds the right to withdraw themselves from collective worship (but not religious education). As the law stands, all other students must have their parents’ permission to withdraw from religious education and collective worship.
The British Humanist Association, in its press release on the matter, said “The best situation would be the replacement of the law requiring religious worship with a law requiring inclusive assemblies that would be suitable for all children.” But Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said: “‘All-inclusive’ assemblies will mean even more religion in schools as each faith seeks to have its share of school time. The only equitable answer is to seek the phasing out religious involvement in schools, not invite even more.”