Government urged to end compulsory worship in schools

By staff writers
6 Jul 2010

Following Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg's initiative to suggest 'bad laws' that should be repealed, advocates of freedom of religion and belief are arguing that compulsory Christian worship in publicly-funded schools should be ended.

A large number of people have suggested the idea through the website set up by Mr Clegg for hearing about laws people think should be repealed or offences which should be scrapped.

Cambridge Liberal Democrat MP Julian Huppert has recently tabled an Early Day Motion (EDM) in Parliament which “calls on the Government to repeal the requirement for compulsory worship in schools and to encourage schools to hold educational assemblies that will include all children.”

Non-conformist Christians, concerned parents from a number of backgrounds, the Accord Coalition for inclusive schooling, the Christian think-tank Ekklesia and the British Humanist Association are among those who have argued that assemblies in taxpayer funded schools should reflect a broad range of inspiration and civic encouragement, rather than requiring pupils to engage in the worship practices of just one religion.

The issue has also been raised as a civil liberties one and at the All Party Parliamentary Group on Human Rights in the past.

The law on this dates back to the 1944 Education Act, which means that in England all state maintained schools are legally required to provide daily collective worship for all their pupils. In community schools the majority of the acts of daily collective worship that are provided in a given term are legally required to be of a "wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character".

In faith schools - sponsored by a religious group but usually wholly taxpayer funded - the act of worship is provided in accordance with the school's trust deed or the tenets and practices of the religion or religious denomination of the school.

This means that all school pupils are currently legally obliged to undertake an act of (usually Christian) worship each school day, regardless of their own beliefs.

Although there are opportunities to opt out of this, such an opt-out is only allowed if requested by the parents. This leaves young people without access to their right to freedom of belief, say campaigners.

Although the law on collective worship is clear, it is widely ignored. Educationists have said that this is dishonest and unhealthy in a democratic society.

OFSTED's reports have indicated that as many as four-fifths of schools in some areas do not hold a daily act of collective worship for all pupils, suggesting that many find the requirement out-dated and inappropriate.

A spokseperson for the BHA said: "We are strongly in favour of inclusive school assemblies, which can help to build shared values and a sense of community. We oppose acts of collective worship in school, since these exclude many, and believe that the parental right of excusal is not a proper solution."

Simon Barrow, co-director of the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia, commented: "Worship is properly understood as a freely-given act of commitment to God in a confessional context. It cannot be right from a Christian viewpoint, let alone from a pluralist one, that pupils from taxpayer funded schools in a diverse society are made, by the law of the land, to say the prayers of one religion, irrespective of their own beliefs and convictions. Modern Britain needs inspiring school assemblies that reflect the diversity of society, its mixed belief character, and its desire to enhance understanding and commitment to the common good among children, parents and teachers from a range of backgrounds. Voluntary provision can and should be made for pupils from particular religious communities."

The Early Day Motion can be found at: http://www.edms.org.uk/edms/2010-2011/395.htm

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 England & Wales License. Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.