Today on BBC Radio 4, former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams delivered one of 2022’s Reith Lectures. The lectures are BBC Radio’s flagship annual lectures, and Rowan’s lecture was one of US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms, namely Freedom of Worship. During the discussion, Wales Humanists asked Dr Williams about the law requiring daily acts of Christian worship in schools and how this denies freedom of worship by denying freedom not to worship. He responded accepting there was a balance between ‘exposure and imposition’ of religious worship in schools but also how he wouldn’t ‘go to the stake for daily worship of a distinctly Christian kind’.
The law requires all state schools in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland to hold a daily act of collective worship. In Scotland, religious observance is required six times a year. Where the school is a faith school, this must be in line with the faith of the school. Otherwise, it must be Christian in nature.
A petition to end collective worship in Wales was brought to the Senedd in 2017 by two schoolchildren asking for the law to be changed. It was answered by the then Education Minister Kirsty Williams in 2020. She said ‘Government must instead prioritise changes to the new curriculum’, but she acknowledged that statutory collective worship raises many human rights concerns, including children’s rights, and that if she personally was ‘starting from a blank piece of paper,’ she would be unlikely to ‘enshrine the law in the way it currently is’.
It is disappointing that nearly three years on from this, there is still no plan to remove this archaic law and replace it with inclusive assemblies. This is especially true in light of the most recent Census results, which found that most people in England and Wales are no longer Christian. In Wales, there are now more non-religious people than Christians. No doubt among young people the share of non-religious is even higher. The results have led to calls from senior school leaders for the law to be changed.
Yesterday, a joint meeting of the UK All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group, Wales Humanists, and others saw further calls for collective worship to be replaced with inclusive assemblies.
Wales Humanists Coordinator Kathy Riddick commented:
‘Collective worship is an outdated law which requires daily acts of worship that are mostly Christian in nature. In Wales, where the new curriculum offers objective and pluralistic Religion, Values and Ethics, and where the non-religious outnumber Christians, forced worship has no place. We are writing to the Welsh Government in light of the Census results to urge a new approach.’
For further comment or information, media should contact Wales Humanists Coordinator Kathy Riddick at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 07881 625 378.
Read more about our work on collective worship.
Read our article on the petition brought to the Senedd to end collective worship.
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