A BILL TO END COMPULSORY ACTS OF COLLECTIVE WORSHIP in schools in England without a religious character is set to be presented to parliament.

The bill, from Liberal Democrat peer Lorely Burt, would replace worship with assemblies which are inclusive of pupils regardless of religion or belief.

The bill was drawn ninth in a ballot of private members’ bills on 14 May, meaning there is a good chance it will be debated in this parliamentary session.

 Under the bill:

  • Schools would not be required to organise compulsory acts of religious observance, but pupils would be permitted to opt in to voluntary acts of worship if they wish.
  • Schools which are not religious in character would be required to provide assemblies that develop the “spiritual, moral, social and cultural education” of pupils regardless of religion or belief.

Since 1944, all schools in England and Wales have been legally required to hold daily acts of worship which are “wholly or mainly of a Christian character”, even where schools have no religious designation. Northern Ireland and Scotland have similar laws, Many schools ignore the legal requirement or hold inclusive assemblies where pupils may choose or not choose to pray.

However, in recent remarks to parliament. the schools minister Nick Gibb said that every maintained school, academy and free school is “required to ensure that collective worship takes place each day.” He added that “If the department is informed that a school may be in breach of this requirement, it will be investigated. Where needed, the department will remind schools of their duty on this matter and advise on how this can be met.”

The National Secular Society  (NSS) which campaigns for the repeal of the compulsory worship law, has asked the Department for Education to clarify the minister’s remarks.

NSS head of education Alastair Lichten has welcomed the bill. “Where the collective worship requirement is enforced in schools, it can be deeply coercive and alienating. And where it is not enforced it creates a farcical disconnect between the law and reality.

“The passage of this bill would be a significant step in the right direction. And the principle behind it should apply in every school. No child should be forced to worship in school, and no school should be forced to hold acts of worship.”

* Source: National Secular Society .