Humanists UK calls for an end to compulsory worship and biased RE in schools in submissions to UN

14 December, 2022

Humanists UK has once again highlighted that compulsory collective worship and non-inclusive religious education (RE) contravene children’s human rights to freedom of religion or belief. It has done so in a series of submissions to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The reports separately cover England and Wales, and Northern Ireland, and were submitted as part of a consultation process designed to assess how well the UK is doing in upholding the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In its submissions, Humanists UK emphasised the importance of making sure that children are able to access a balanced and inclusive approach to assemblies and religious education in schools. The submissions also cover religiously selective admissions, illegal schools, and religious carve-outs to relationships and sex education (RSE). In particular the submissions cited the implications of the recent JR87 case in Northern Ireland for other countries in the UK.

While progress has been made on inclusive RE in Wales, collective worship remains a problem there. England’s RE and collective worship laws remain stubbornly out of step with modern demographics, although there is inclusive RE in many local authorities. Meanwhile Northern Ireland’s education system is notoriously religiously divided and entirely non-inclusive of the non-religious and those of minority faiths.

The submissions call on the CRC to recommend that governments across the UK take steps to make sure that all children are able to access education that is critical, objective, and pluralistic. Last year the CRC called upon governments in the UK to ‘describe the measures taken to repeal legal provisions for compulsory attendance at collective worship in publicly funded schools and ensure that children can independently exercise the right to withdraw from religious observance at school.’

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Robert Cann said: 

‘It is scarcely believable that, even though the UK ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, there remain instances where children’s freedom of religion or belief is not upheld in schools across the UK.

‘Children have the right to an education that is inclusive and fair, regardless of their religious or non-religious beliefs. We are calling on the CRC to once again recommend that the Governments in the UK take steps to remedy this.’

The submissions from Humanists UK forms part of the UK’s periodic review by the CRC, which takes place every five years. The Committee will consider the submissions, along with those from other organisations, before publishing its findings and recommendations.


For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at or phone 020 7324 3072 or 020 3675 0959.

Read more about our work on religious education.

Read more about our work on collective worship.

Download the submissions for England and Wales, and Northern Ireland.

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.