Young people given ‘voice’ but not ‘choice’ in new Religious Observance guidance

The Humanist Society Scotland has welcomed the publication of new Scottish Government guidance to head teachers on Religious Observance in Scottish schools as “a step in the right direction”.

The updated guidance was developed in response to call for a Judicial Review lodged by Humanist Society Scotland at the Court of Session that aimed to secure rights for non-religious young people in Scotland’s schools. HSS argued that existing guidance did not accurately reflect the policy statements of Ministers and officials. The case has been ‘sisted’ (paused) since December 2016 to allow Scottish Ministers time to consult and publish updated guidance on pupil involvement in discussions about their participation in Religious Observance in state schools. In light of this new guidance, HSS will now withdraw its legal action. You can download the new guidance from the bottom of this page.

This new guidance will ask headteachers to ensure students views are considered when discussing their involvement in religious observance at school. It does not, however, provide an independent statutory right for young people to opt out of Religious Observance such as that enjoyed by senior pupils in England and Wales.

Commenting on the new guidance, Gordon MacRae, Chief Executive of Humanist Society Scotland said:

“Today’s updated guidance gives young people in Scotland a voice, but not yet a choice, when it comes to their participation in Religious Observance in state schools.

“Scottish Ministers are to be congratulated on this new guidance and for responding positively to the Court decision to consider our Judicial Review last year. We were happy to agree a pause proceedings last December to allow them to take action and today’s guidance is a clear step in the right direction in the protection of young people’s human rights.”

Mr MacRae added:

“Today’s updated guidance only came about due to the legal action undertaken by Humanist Society Scotland and funded by our members and supporters.

“We remain disappointed that Court has not had an opportunity to consider our view, backed by expert legal opinion, that the current religious observance requirements in the classroom is incompatible with young people’s article 9 human rights to freedom of thought, belief or religion. HSS is now working with a number of young people to seek the earliest possible opportunity to support representations based on this human rights argument.”

Humanists call on faith bodies to boycott recruitment of religious rep for Aberdeen Schools

Humanist Society Scotland have today called on the members of Aberdeen’s minority faith groups to boycott the recruitment process for a new religious representative to the City Council Education Committee.

At present the Church of Scotland and the Roman Catholic Church each have a representative. Council officers are advertising for a member of any other faith body to fill the vacant third seat. Religious reps have full voting rights in committee meetings but cannot be voted out by the community and are not required to adhere to Ethical Standards in Public Life (Act).

HSS are campaigning to change the law that compels councils in Scotland to appoint three church reps. They are urging supporters to sign an online petition at

Vanessa Smith, Convener of Aberdeen Humanists, part of HSS, said:

“Church representatives are unelected, unrepresentative and unaccountable. And yet they are still able to vote on every council decision about education in the City.

“Aberdeen Council are simply doing what is required of them by law but there is nothing to compel Aberdeen’s faith community to take up the vacant seat. I hope we can persuade members of the faith community to leave the vacant seat empty and instead seek to work together to hold our democratically elected councillors to account for the choices they make about schools across the city.

“Removing church representatives further ensures an opportunity for children from different backgrounds to learn and socialise together, breaking down the barriers that divide us and promoting social cohesion.”