Scottish Humanists to legally challenge policy barring pupils from opting out of religious observance in schools  

12 September, 2016

Humanist Society Scotland (HSS) will seek a legal challenge to Scottish Government’s decision not to allow pupils to withdraw themselves from religious observance in school. The announcement comes after the Scottish Government chose in June to ignore the call of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child for the parental right of withdrawal from religious observance to young people, a decision which the HSS claims in unlawful.

The British Humanist Association (BHA), which has long campaigned against the religious observance requirement (known as ‘collective worship’ in England and Wales), has voiced its support for the extension of the right of withdrawal to pupils. The BHA has also renewed its calls for the repeal of collective worship, arguing instead that schools provide inclusive assemblies suitable for all pupils.

All schools in the UK are required to hold a daily act of religious worship or observance. While sixth form pupils in England and Wales are able to opt themselves out of requirement – a provision which the BHA maintains is not itself satisfactory to protect the rights of children and parents – the view of the Scottish Government is that sixth formers do not have the right to opt themselves out of religious observance.

In 2011, amendments to the Education Bill sought to have the requirement dropped altogether for English schools, a move which received widespread support from both the public, teachers, and a number of religious organisations such as Christian think tank Ekklesia, British Muslims for Secular Democracy, and the Hindu Council of the UK. The amendments failed to make it into the final Act.

HSS Chief Executive Gordon Macrae
HSS Chief Executive Gordon Macrae

HSS Chief Executive Gordon MacRae said that it was time for the Scottish Government to trust children ‘to make their own decisions about attending Religious Observance’, commenting that ‘the Scottish Government’s policy on religious observance is a mess, a classic political fudge. Our young people deserve better’.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson added, ‘The collective worship requirement is anachronistic and discriminatory, and that is just as true in Scotland as it is in England and Wales. We have always been clear that it threatens the freedom of religion and belief of both parents and children, an overwhelming and increasing majority of which do not affiliate themselves with a particular religion. We support the Humanist Society Scotland in their legal challenge and will continue to campaign for the requirement as a whole to be dropped and replaced with inclusive assemblies covering a wide range of ethical issues, so that the issue of withdrawing from worship, and all the problems that it causes, is not one that parents and children have to face to begin with’.


For further comment or information please contact the BHA’s Education Campaigner Jay Harman on or 020 7324 3078.

Read the BHA’s news item ‘BHA calls for abolition of collective worship as poll again shows majority opposed’:

Read more about the BHA’s work on collective worship:

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.