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New Bill proposes to make religious education fully inclusive of humanism

A new Bill that proposes to make explicit that religious education must be fully inclusive of non-religious worldviews such as humanism will be considered in the UK Parliament, after being drawn 22nd in the House of Lords Private Members’ Bill ballot yesterday. The Education (Non-religious Philosophical Convictions) Bill was tabled by All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group (APPHG) Vice-Chair Baroness Burt with support from Humanists UK, and its first reading will be on 14 June.

Since it was drawn 22nd, the Bill’s second reading (during which the first debate takes place) will happen later in the parliamentary year and is yet to be scheduled. If it receives sufficient support, it could become law.

The Bill will introduce an explicit requirement for RE in England to give equal weight to non-religious worldviews such as humanism. This would in effect place an historic high court judgment on RE from 2015, known as the Fox case, into primary legislation. Since the Fox case, the UK Government has not acted to change the law accordingly, but primary legislation would prevent such confusion. This Bill would also bring England broadly into line with Wales, which has recently reformed RE by renaming it ‘religion values and ethics’ (RVE) and stipulating that the subject must teach about all religions and worldviews impartially, with humanism on an equal footing to religion.

Ironically, Baroness Burt’s success in the ballot came on the same day that the UK Government introduced its Schools Bill, a retrograde step which would legislate afresh to continue to permit a narrow RE curriculum, as well as compulsory worship, in faith schools in England.

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Robert Cann commented:

‘We strongly support the introduction of Baroness Burt’s RE Bill. The Fox case was a huge victory back in 2015. And while the judgment is legally binding case law, schools and local authorities often fail to understand this. To make the requirements clear, nothing beats the power of primary legislation. It is simply not appropriate, in the diverse, multi-belief society that the UK is today, that children can be taught a narrow RE curriculum in our state-funded schools.

‘For this reason we will both support and promote the passage of Baroness Burt’s Bill, while at the same time build a coalition to use the opportunity of the Government’s Schools Bill to reform RE and collective worship in England.’

Notes:

For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at press@humanists.uk or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.

Read more about our work on religious education.

Read more about our work on state-funded faith schools.

Read our article on the Queen’s Speech.

Read our article on the Education White Paper, Opportunity for All.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

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