• Opting out of Religious Observance (RO) in schools isn’t working.
• There is an assumption of faith in Scottish schools with all children included in Christian worship by default.
• Most parents aren’t properly told of their right to opt-out when they register their children. More than one parent in three never finds out at all.
• Many Scots now have no religious affiliation at all, so the presumption that RO reflects shared values is not right, but like Iran, the state still imposes prayer for children.
Changing opt-out to opt-in and keeping RO only for those who want it.
Secular Scotland is co-authoring a petition along with Inverclyde parent, Mark Gordon, to the Scottish Government to amend the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 to make Religious Observance (RO) in schools an ‘opt-in’ activity rather than an ‘opt-out’. The Petition is also backed by the Humanist Society of Scotland.
The petition states that this would remove the divisive and unreasonable presumption of religious affiliation in non-denominational schools which no longer reflects the diversity of belief and non-belief in Scotland.
Mr Gordon says: “The law says that ‘in no circumstances should a child be disadvantaged as a result of withdrawing from religious observance’ and given a ‘suitable worthwhile alternative activity.’ In my experience and that of many other parents – this is most certainly not the case. My daughter is made to sit in the school office with paper and pencils to draw with and is “looked after” by the school secretary since there are usually no teaching staff available. Before Easter, because the head teacher and my child’s class teacher were not present, the stand-in took her to an evangelical church service expressly against my written instructions. After complaining, I received a profuse apology from the head teacher for the “assumption” that this teacher had made.”
Mr Gordon, who is opposed to the UK’s almost unique position of enforced praying in schools, adds: “The current situation provides little basis for parental understanding of the detailed content of Religious Observance (RO) and provides little or no checks and balances upon such content. It would be better to have a system that ensured the integrity of participation in RO. This would be an improvement for children and religion alike.”
Caroline Lynch, chair of Secular Scotland explains: “It is important to stress the difference between RO and Religious and Moral Education (RME), which we support. The present ‘opt-out’ arrangement for RO is not fulfilling its purpose. RO is intended to ‘celebrate the shared values of the school community’. However, as acknowledged in the Religious Observance Review Group report of 2004, ‘in most non-denominational schools, there is a diversity of beliefs and practices’. Thus the current opt-out arrangement, which presumes a substantial uniformity of belief and practice, is no longer appropriate. Moreover, only one parent in five is even made aware during the school registration process of the current opt-out option.”
Mr Gordon is not prepared to lobby the local authority to conduct a ballot of all eligible electors as recommended by the Secretary of State, adding: “It would be prohibitively expensive. Many are unaware of the issues with RO, others apathetic, and with the well-funded and organised religious lobby fighting even the idea of discussion, let alone change, local measures to address RO are impractical and ineffective. The opt-out system also breaches the right to privacy. Opting out from whatever is the traditional belief at a particular school exposes one’s lack of belief, which is a private family matter. For many parents this would be unacceptable and is probably one of the reasons why many parents do not currently opt out.”
Notes to news desks: -
This does not affect Religious Education (RE).
Secular Scotland can provide speakers for TV/Radio interview, quotes and pictures on request.
Secular Scotland is the largest Scots-based Secular organisation and has over 500 members on Facebook.
Articles available: -
Forcing Religious Observance in Schools by Robert Canning: -
A Sex Education Horror Story in Scotland by Emeritus Professor Paul Braterman: -
For further information, please email Caroline Lynch, Chair on firstname.lastname@example.org