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Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Let us (not) pray

A new report from the UK Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights calls for children to be given the right to withdraw from worship in schools.

About time, too. They should never have been forced to pray in the first place and, if the government insists there should be compulsory superstition sessions in British schools, it should be for parents to have their children opt in, rather than have to ask for them to opt out, as is the case at the moment for all children except sixth-formers.

In other words, 13-, 14-, 15- and 16-year-olds are not thought mature enough to decide that they would rather spend time doing something useful towards their education than stand in a school hall attempting to commune with a deity and singing "All Things Bright and Beautiful" (OK, maybe that's not sung any more).

Better altogether to have an assembly for that other reason assemblies are held – to give the entire school a chance to come together and feel a sense of wholeness and cohesion and community – and talk about things that affect the school.

The report has been supported by the British Humanist Association (BHA), and the think tank Ekklesia says,

The report says that any child of "sufficient maturity, intelligence and understanding" to [sic] be given the right to withdraw from compulsory religious worship. Currently, only sixth[-]form students have the right to withdraw themselves, and other children can only be withdrawn at the request of their parents, but the Human Rights Committee have said that this violates children’s rights to freedom of belief and conscience.

Writing in support of the Committee’s report to Minister for Schools and Learners, Jim Knight MP, the BHA said: "We agree with the JCHR that the law is clearly inconsistent with the European Convention on Human Rights and that children of ‘sufficient maturity, intelligence and understanding’ should be permitted to withdraw themselves from prayer and other worship."

The Church of England has long opposed giving freedom to children, and believes they should be forced to continue under the provisions of the 1944 Education Act to be made to talk each day to invisible people – something that, if they did it in the playground, would sufficiently worry staff that such children would be taken for psychiatric assessment as soon as waiting lists allowed.

The policy, says Ekklesia, arose because Britain was seen as a Christian country, and the reason for a change of attitude is that it's multicultural. Wrong reason! The change in attitude should have come from the realisation that belief in sky fairies is delusional, and that in some cults, notably Catholicism, frothy evangelical Christianity and Islam, it can to varying degrees be dangerous for the child concerned and sometimes those he or she comes into contact with.

But it's a change in the right direction. At least the kids will be able to pull themselves out of all and any religious force-feeding, presumably – although some irresponsible parents will continue to demand that their own beliefs should be rammed down the throats of their children, and insist they continue to do the mumbo-jumbo thing every morning.

Ekklesia says, "In 2006, several British churches lobbied the government for greater investment in training and resources for school staff charged with organising collective worship."

Yes, and you can bet your bottom it would be the taxpayer, not the churches, who would fork out for the "training and resources". Ekklesia, in its wisdom, did not support this move.

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