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Lords to debate Bill to replace RE with ‘Religion and Worldviews’

A Bill to rename the English school curriculum subject of Religious Education (RE) to Religion and Worldviews (RW) is being debated in the House of Lords today. The Bill would also make sure that it is taught in a way that is fully inclusive of non-religious worldviews such as humanism. Humanists UK has campaigned for inclusive RE for many years, and has worked with its proposer, Baroness Burt, to draft the Bill and brief peers for the debate. It said it was long past time the law was overhauled in a way that the subject community has long been advocating for.

The Education (Non-Religious Philosophical Convictions) Bill is being proposed as a Private Members’ Bill by All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group (APPHG) Vice-Chair Baroness Burt. If it becomes law, it would in effect place an historic High Court judgment on RE from 2015, known as the Fox case, into primary legislation.

The Bill would not affect faith-based RE in faith schools, other than allowing parents of children at such schools to request inclusive RW lessons for their children, rather than withdraw them from lessons. It would also change the membership of the bodies that set and oversee the RE/RW syllabus in each local authority to make it explicit that humanists should be appointed alongside religious people.

This progressive change is required not least because two-thirds of young adults, and over 50 per cent of the population as a whole, have told the British Social Attitudes Survey they belong to no religion. Around half of these have humanist beliefs and values. (Census figures released this week record 43% of children as having ticked ‘No religion’, but those figures are lower than that because the Census question is biased and leading). Furthermore, human rights case law, most recently in Northern Ireland, has established that RE breaches the human rights of the non-religious if it fails to give equal respect to non-religious worldviews. Unfortunately many syllabuses still fail to provide this equal respect, and parents end up having to take – and win – legal action. Legal clarity through a change in the statute law is therefore now essential.

Recently the Welsh Government has legislated in exactly the manner proposed by this Bill through the Curriculum and Assessment (Wales) Act 2021. Baroness Burt’s Education Bill seeks to achieve the same for England.

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Robert Cann commented:

‘We welcome this visionary Bill being debated today. If it becomes law, it would mark a significant victory for inclusive education, as well as for advancing the freedom of religion or belief of children and their families. We all know now that England is becoming increasingly non-religious, and it’s high time education law caught up.

‘We want a subject on the curriculum which helps young people to form and explore their own beliefs, and develop an understanding of beliefs and values different from their own. I hope that the peers contributing to today’s debate share our appetite for change, and demonstrate why non-religious worldviews must be treated with the same respect as religions in our children’s education.’

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.

Watch the debate on parliament.tv.

Visit the Education (Non-Religious Philosophical Convictions) Bill page.

Read more about our work on religious education.

Read our article about the inclusive RE amendment to the Schools Bill.

Read our article about a parent successfully challenging his child’s school’s RE syllabus.

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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