HSS Launch Guide Books for Non-Religious Parents & Pupils

At the Humanist Society we regularly receive complaints from parents and pupils who are troubled by religious teaching in their schools. Many are unsure of their legal rights, and are unaware of the options open to them in relation to the religious content of education.

For these reasons we focused heavily on issues surrounding education, including launching our Enlighten Up campaign, and committing to train Humanist School Visitors to participate in RME classes, group discussions, and debates.

HSS are now very pleased to unveil two new resources A Guide for Non-Religious Parents, and A Guide for Non-Religious Young People, to help older pupils, parents and carers to better understand their rights within education.

Each book includes advice on how to opt out of religious observance, what resources are available to schools, how to make a complaint when you feel your rights have not been respected, and much more. It is our hope that this will prove a helpful tool in empowering the two thirds of non-religious young people in Scotland to have a greater say over their own education, and that no one is made to feel excluded or different just because they don’t follow a religion.

In June HSS highlighted that the Scottish Government’s refusal to allow senior pupils in Scotland to opt out of religious observance, despite urging by the UN and other senior bodies.

Gary McLelland, Head of Communications and Public Affairs

Gary McLelland, Head of Communications and Public Affairs

HSS Head of Communications and Public Affairs, Gary McLelland, said:

“Many people across Scotland feel uncomfortable about the religious content of in the school system but are unsure about what their legal rights are. Every week we hear from parents asking for advice about opting their child out of religious observance, or pupils wanting to include non-religious views – such as Humanism – in their own RME classes, but are not sure how to do it.

“We know from our own research that not all parents are aware of their right to withdraw from religious observance. Schools really do have a responsibility to let parents and carers know what their legal rights are.

“That’s why we’ve created these booklets. We want to give parents and young people a guide to their legal rights here in Scotland. It is our ultimate aim to see religious observance scrapped and replaced with a more inclusive activity, such as philosophy which children, but until then we will campaign to make sure that all parents and young people are aware of their rights.

“In June we highlighted the fact that the Scottish Government continues to drag its feet over children’s rights by not allowing senior pupils to opt out of religious observance – it really is time the we had a serious discussion about the place of religion in Scottish education.”

Notes: For further information or comment please contact Gary McLelland on gary@humanism.scot or 07813060713.

The booklets can be viewed and downloaded for free at: http://enlightenup.scot/advice/

HSS-commissioned research: In 2011 HSS commissioned research from Progressive/YouGov which highlighted a flaw in the 2011 census question. When asked ‘What religion are you’, the census question, 58% answered positively. However, when asked the less leading question ‘Are you religious’, 56% answered No. Full details: https://www.humanism.scot/what-we-do/research/hss-independent-research-on-religion-and-belief-in-scotland-2011/

In 2012 HSS commissioned research from YouGov to identify if parents were aware of their parental right to opt-out of Religious and Moral Education and Religious Observance. The results found that four out five parents (80%) were either ignorant of their rights or originally found out through a source other than school. Worryingly, 39%, over a third of parents were not aware of their right at all. Further information at: https://www.humanism.scot/what-we-do/research/religion-and-education-2012/

In March 7 2016 HSS released a detailed exposé of unelected religious representatives on local eduction committees: More information at: http://enlightenup.scot/new-enlightenup-campaign-expose-details-of-unelected-religious-representatives/

External research: 70.8% of 14-17 years have no religion (Survey of young Scots, 2013, http://aqmen.ac.uk/referendum/youngpeople)

In August 2015 the Scottish Households Survey found that nearly one-in-two households in Scotland are non-religious: http://www.gov.scot/Publications/2015/08/3720

About Enlighten Up: The Enlighten Up campaign is an initiative of Humanist Society Scotland which aims to promote a fair and inclusive education system where pupils and teachers are not discriminated against because of their religion or belief. More info at: http://enlightenup.scot/

About HSS:
Humanist Society Scotland seeks to represent the views of people in Scotland who wish to lead ethical and fulfilling lives guided by reason, empathy and compassion. We provide a range of non-religious ceremonies and campaign for a secular state. HSS has over 14,000 members across Scotland.

Enlighten Up hits the road!

Exciting news… We’re taking the #EnlightenUp campaign on the road! We’ll be hitting the streets, handing out leaflets and asking people to sign the Enlighten Up petition.


Our campaign team getting to workThis is a great opportunity for us to really spread the word about the unelected religious reps making decisions on education throughout Scotland. We’ve already had one successful afternoon out in Edinburgh, where we collected over 100 signatures, now we’re coming to a city near you.


Will you to join us? We have balloons, t-shirts and pens at the ready, time to get involved!


Picture 2

Take a look at our upcoming events here, and be sure to like our page for more updates.

Enlighten Up campaign toolkit

We’ve been blown away by the fantastic response to our Enlighten Up campaign. If you’ve been keeping up to date with the campaign you may have seen that we held a panel at the SNP Spring Conference, hosted by Tommy Shepherd MP. You can now listen to the panel on our brand new podcast, either download from iTunes or listen directly here.

So far our petition has over 700 signatures, but there’s still so much more to be done. If you’ve already signed, please make sure you keep sharing far and wide. To help you spread the word we’ve put together this campaign toolkit, with sample tweets and Facebook posts. Feel free to use as many as you like, just copy and paste as is, or rewrite them if you prefer.


#EnlightenUp campaign by @humanistsociety expose details of unelected religious representatives www.enlightenup.scot

These are the un-elected religious reps influencing Scotland’s education. Faith school or not. #EnlightenUp http://enlightenup.scot/news

More than half of Scots identify as non-religious, our education system should reflect that #EnlightenUp www.enlightenup.scot

Parent’s shouldn’t be left guessing who is on their local education committee, that’s why I support #EnlightenUp www.enlightenup.scot

Decision makers must be accountable to their constituents through the ballot box That’s why I support #EnlightenUp www.enlightenup.scot

The presence of unelected religious representatives is anti-democratic. That’s why I support #EnlightenUp www.enlightenup.scot

It is undemocratic for education committees to have to appoint 3 unelected religious reps. Time to #EnlightenUp www.enlightenup.scot

I want to see a modern and progressive approach to education in Scotland. That’s why I support #EnlightenUp http://www.enlightenup.scot 

Unelected religious reps hold the balance of power in 19 out of 32 council educational committees #EnlightenUp http://www.enlightenup.scot 

I don’t want unelected religious reps to have power to rule on inclusive education That’s why I support #EnlightenUp http://www.enlightenup.scot 

I believe in democracy. That’s why I support @humanistsociety #EnlightenUp www.enlightenup.scot

I believe that education should be fair inclusive. That’s why I support @humanistsociety #EnlightenUp www.enlightenup.scot

We need to talk about the role of religion in schools http://www.enlightenup.scot  #EnlightenUp

I think it’s time we had #secular education in Scotland That’s why I support @humanistsociety #EnlightenUp www.enlightenup.scot

Support the #EnlightenUp campaign today, I do! www.enlightenup.scot

I think education should be democratic, inclusive and fair. Do you agree? www.enlightenup.scot#EnlightenUp

Who has a seat on your education committee? @humanistsociety exposed some unelected religious reps #EnlightenUp www.enlightenup.scot/news

I think children should have the chance to learn about all religions objectively. That’s why I support #EnlightenUp www.enlightenup.scot



Currently all Scottish councils are required to appoint three religious representatives to their education committees. These religious representatives are unelected and unaccountable. I believe that all members of local education committees should be accountable to their communities through the ballot box, that’s why I’ve signed the #EnlightenUp petition by Humanist Society Scotland to bring an end to unelected religious reps. Visit /www.enlightenup.scot to get involved too.

Unelected religious representative are making decisions on education in communities across Scotland. All Scottish councils are required to appoint three religious reps. to their education committees. They hold the same voting rights as elected members, but are completely unaccountable to the people they represent. This is undemocratic, which is why I’ve signed the #EnlightenUp petition by Humanist Society Scotland. Get involved at www.enlightenup.scot

Unelected religious representatives hold the balance of power on 19 out of 32 education committees across Scotland. I think this is undemocratic. That’s why I’ve signed the #EnlightenUp petition by Humanist Society Scotland. We need education reform in Scotland, sign the petition at www.enlightenup.scot


New EnlightenUp campaign exposes details of unelected religious representatives

The Enlighten Up campaign calls for removal of unelected religious representatives from Local Authority Education Committees and exposes worrying details of current religious representatives in a new report.

Humanist Society Scotland has today launched its new Enlighten Up education campaign calling on the Scottish Government to end the guessing game for parents and ensure that every member of local authority education committees are accountable through the ballot box.

The Society, which has over 14,000 members across Scotland, has published details of the 88 religious representatives who have been appointed to local authority education committees without a vote. The report exposes several worrying examples of religious appointees who have full voting rights without ever seeking a mandate from the electorate:

  • Clackmannanshire: ‘Third representative’, Pastor David Fraser, who believes that Satan is to blame for the death of a 5-year-old child last year, and that Noah’s Ark has been found.
  • East Dunbartonshire: Church of Scotland representative, Mrs Barbara Jarvie, believes that the Kirk’s role is justified and that unelected church reps work in ‘conjunction‘ with elected councillors; and the Roman Catholic education rep is a priest who was found guilty of “unwanted harassment” and making sexual advances towards males in his house.
  • Highland Council: In Highland Council, in 2012, religious representatives influenced a vote which defeated the coalition of SNP, Liberal Democrats and Labour members which had formed to run the Council. The Council’s depute leader described the arrangement as an “historic anomaly” and argued that it “threatens democratic decision-making”.
  • Falkirk Council: The ‘third representative’, Rev Michael Rollo (who is also a chaplain in Larbert High), believes in faith healing.
  • Renfrewshire Council: Catholic representative Jack Nellaney says Catholic schools are important because “faith is not something young people think about day in, day out, so it’s important to give them a chance to reflect on faith in action.”
  • South Lanarkshire: ‘Third representative’ Dr Nagy Iskander is one of ‘Europe’s most active creationists‘ according to high-profile American anti-science campaigner Ken Ham.
  • Orkney – Former Councillor of 22 years, Hugh Halcro-Johnston, was defeated in the 2003 election, then returns to Council as Religious Representative.
  • Shetland: Like all local authorities Shetland Islands Council is required to appoint three unelected religious representatives, despite the clear wishes by the Council not to. (quote from Shetland Councillor below).

Speaking at the launch of the campaign outside the Scottish Parliament, Gordon MacRae, HSS Chief Executive, said:
“The presence of unelected religious representatives is anti-democratic  and out of step with modern Scotland.
“Parents should not be left guessing who has a right to make decisions over their children’s education. Every full voting member of local education committees should be accountable through the ballot box.
“Instead religious groups, should have the same, not more, rights as teachers, parents, trade unions and community groups to contribute to and shape local education decisions.”

Gordon MacRae added:
“The law to force councils to appoint religious representatives only came in under the Conservative Government in 1973. As we look to the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections we hope Scotland’s politicians will agree that it is time to end it once and for all.”

Speaking in support of the campaign Dame Anne Glover, Professor of Biology, and former Chief Scientific Advisor to the Scottish Government, said:
“A vibrant and engaged modern Scotland needs an education policy that reflects the reality of modern Scottish society. That is why I support the Enlighten Up campaign for education reform in Scotland.”

Councillor Jonathan Wills, of Shetland Island Council, said:
“Local councillors have to seek a mandate from their community, and they remain accountable to the local community. Having unelected religious representatives on local education committees is outdated and has to change. That is why I support the Enlighten Up campaign for education reform in Scotland.”

Religion in Scots Law: Landmark report published by Humanist Society Scotland

A landmark report funded by the Humanist Society Scotland (HSS), conducted by the University of Glasgow, has been released today.

The report finds a weakening of the position of religion in Scots law in all areas, except education, where it has been significantly strengthened in recent years.

Religion in Scots law FrontCoverfinal SmThe report was commissioned in November 2014 with HSS providing £40,000 of funding to cover the costs of the research team including a full-time post-doctorate researcher. HSS are supporting the release of this report, in full, into the public domain, in the hope that it will inform the debate about the role of religion in public life.

Speaking about the launch of the report, HSS Chief Executive Gordon MacRae said:
“We’re very pleased to be able to support the release of this report today. The motivation for this commission came from the increased public and political awareness of the changing role of religion and belief in Scottish public life.

“Many people in Scotland will be surprised by the quirks highlighted in this report, such as; Church Ministers getting a 50% discount on their Council Tax, religious communities being exempt from the requirement to pay a minimum wage, and the fact that Scotland never quite got around to repealing the Blasphemy law.”

“But for us the most significant theme in the report is a weakening of the position of religion in Scots law in all areas, except education; where it has been significantly strengthened in recent years.

“Humanist Society Scotland supports the move towards an inclusive, secular education system where children and teachers are not discriminated against because of their religion or belief. This report will be key catalyst for the ongoing public debate about the role of religion in education. In the coming weeks and months we will be outlining our position for reform of the education system in Scotland.”

(l-r) Gordon MacRae, Callum Brown and Jane Mair

(l-r) Gordon MacRae (HSS Chief Executive), Prof. Callum Brown and Prof. Jane Mair

Prof. Callum Brown, University of Glasgow, said:
“I am delighted to be able to release this comprehensive report into the public domain today. This report is a significant contribution to the current public debate about the role of religion in Scottish public life.

“This report will be of particular interest to academics, campaigners and policy-makers in Scotland. We hope that by giving an authoritative and comprehensive examination of the areas into which religion intrudes into Scots law will help to inform the current debate.

“The report outlines examples of religion’s place in the law, which is by and large now being eroded by human rights legislation from Europe, Westminster and Holyrood. This report is timely, given the upcoming Scottish Parliament elections in May, and we are confident it will inform the policies of future Scottish Governments in the years to come.”

Prof. Jane Mair, University of Glasgow Law School, who is an expert in the area of marriage law, said:
“In recent years some of the most radical legal reforms have taken place in Scots marriage law. This has been characterised by a shift from institutional rights to individual rights. Religious organisations no longer enjoy any privileged position, with the exception of Church of Scotland ministers who retain separate recognition within the law from other religious and belief group celebrants.

“The 2014 Marriage and Civil Partnership Act highlighted a watershed moment in Scottish public life, and highlighted the declining role of religion in shaping the model of marriage.

“The development of marriage law in Scotland gives a concise overview of the developing treatment of religion in Scots Law generally. Today Scotland remains the only part of the UK where Humanists can perform legal weddings.”

The report provides a thorough analysis of the relationship between religion and Scottish statute law, historically and into the present day. It highlights a number of issues, including:

General audit:

  • Following 1812, the crime of blasphemy in Scotland was a Common Law offence. This Common Law offence has never passed into desuetude (see pp.201)
  • Religious communities are not obliged to pay the minimum wage (see pp.280)


  • Appointment of ‘religious representatives’ on local authority education committees (see pp.172)
  • The 11 members of the General Teaching Council of Scotland are required to include one member from Church of Scotland and one from the Roman Catholic Church (see pp.174)
  • Denominational schools ‘parent councils and combined parent councils’ are required to co-opt one representative of the denominational body (see pp.174)
  • The decisions of previous Secretaries of State may have led to the development of quasi-denominational schools in Scotland (see pp.161)

On the Church of Scotland:

  • The position of the  Church of Scotland in relation to the state is complex and in some way ambiguous, and the report exposes the issues and the diverse arguments about it (see chapter 2)
  • Kirk Sessions used to be very active in  pursuing the ‘sexual misdemeanours’ of local citizen between 1650s-1850s (see pp.21)
  • Local Church of Scotland Ministers used to enforce rules requiring the payment of local taxes to fund the maintenance and repair of Manses and Glebes (see pp.22)
  • There was a significant degree of change in the relationship between the Church of Scotland and the Parliament of Scotland following the Glorious Revolution and the rise of Presbyterianism. These developments can be understood as a form of disestablishment around the latter part of the C17th (see pp.34)
  • A ‘mark’ of Establishment of the Church of Scotland has been its particular recognition by the Monarchy of the UK. This is shown in the appointment of an Ecclesiastical Household to the Monarch in Scotland (see pp.73)

Notes to editors:
For further comment please contact:
Gary McLelland 07813060713 or gary@humanism.scot
Photography: http://bit.ly/1RpCPJs
Broadcast-quality audio: http://bit.ly/1Ovaddf

Gordon MacRae – HSS Chief Executive

Prof. Callum Brown – University of Glasgow

Prof. Jane Mair – University of Glasgow

About HSS:
Humanist Society Scotland seeks to represent the views of people in Scotland who wish to lead ethical and fulfilling lives guided by reason, empathy and compassion. We provide a range of non-religious ceremonies and campaign for a secular state. HSS has over 14,000 members across Scotland.

Call for ‘new national settlement’ from independent Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life

An independent commission established by Cambridge’s Woolf Institute has today published its final report, calling for a ‘new settlement’ in relation to religion or belief in the UK.

Living with Difference: Community, Diversity and the Common Good is the end result of the work of twenty commissioners, including leaders from a range of religions, equality and human rights specialists, and the Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association. Chaired by the Rt Hon Baroness Butler-Sloss of Marsh Green GBE, they spent two years gathering 200 evidence submissions in writing and held oral witness sessions across the UK, in order to make recommendations targeted at policy makers, government officials, religious leaders and the wider public for how policy and practice relating to religion and belief should develop in the UK. Humanist Society Scotland held an evidence hearing for the Commission at the University of Glasgow, the only Humanist organisation to do so.

The report draws attention to the way that the religion and belief make-up of UK society has changed immeasurably in recent decades. Positive recommendations of the report include:

  • ‘Governments across the UK should introduce a statutory entitlement for all schools within the state system for a subject dealing with religious and non-religious worldviews… The content should be broad and inclusive in a way that reflects the diversity of religion and belief in the UK.’
  • ‘Governments should repeal requirements for schools to hold acts of collective worship or religious observance and issue new guidelines building on current best practice for inclusive assemblies and times for reflection’
  • ‘Government should recognise the negative practical consequences of selection by religion in schools, and that most religious schools can further their aims without discriminating on grounds of religion in their admissions and employment practices, and require bodies responsible for school admissions and the employment of staff to take measures to reduce such selection.’
  • ‘State inspectorates should be concerned with every aspect of the life of faith schools, including religious elements currently inspected by denominational authorities.’
  • ‘The BBC Charter renewal should mandate the Corporation to reflect the range of religion and belief of modern society, for example by extending contributions to Radio 4’s daily religious flagship Thought for the Day to include speakers from non-religious perspectives such as humanists.’
  • There should be ‘equitable representation’ in hospital and prison chaplaincy services ‘for those from non-Christian religious traditions and for those from humanist traditions.’

HSS Chief Executive Gordon MacRae commented,

“There are a lot of welcome proposals in this report today, it is certainly progress in the right direction. It does not go far enough though, that is clear.

“We welcome the proposals in this report to repeal the requirement for Religious Observance. It’s important to reflect that comes less than a month after a report by the Arts and Humanities Council also called for RO to be dropped.

“The report specifically highlights the dramatic fall in rates of religious identification in Scotland, it’s so important that public policy in this area begins to reflect the reality of modern Scottish society.”

For more information, please contact Gary McLelland, Head of Communications and Public Affairs for Humanist Society Scotland, on gary@humanism.scot or 07813060713.

HSS welcomes calls for major reforms to Religious Observance in Schools

Humanist Society Scotland has welcomed the publication of an important report into the provision of religious observance in Scotland (and collective worship in England, Wales and Northern Ireland). HSS has followed up the release of this report with a call to Education Scotland and the Scottish Government to establish a working group to examine the rationale for the continuation of RO in schools, in-line with the report’s recommendations.

The report, compiled by The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) on Collective Worship, was launched at a public conference at the University of Leicester on 13th November 2015. In addition to the presentation of the Network’s findings, the conference – which was chaired by Lord Sutherland of Houndwood – also featured presentations from a number of influential figured from the UK and overseas. These included: the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief, Professor Heiner Bielefeldt; the sociologist of religion, Professor Linda Woodhead (Lancaster University); the Professor of Theology and Education, Mary Elizabeth Moore (Boston University); and the Professor of Education, Geir Skeie (Stockholm University).

 The report makes some key recommendations, all of which HSS fully supports:
  1. It is recommended that each government urgently establishes a working group to consider, in the first instance, whether a rationale exists to require schools to arrange a collective activity in a distinct and designated period within the school timetable. This deliberation should take place within the framework of the six questions relating to rationale set out in this report, and in light of the aims and values of each country’s educational system.
  2. It is recommended that each government establishes a working group to review in detail the nature of the current duty, the extent of its implementation, and (to the extent they exist) the efficacy of inspection regimes. This review should consider the need for empirical research to inform its work.
The report also highlighted three Scotland-specific recommendations:
  • It is recommended that Education Scotland provide clear guidance as to what constitutes religious observance and where worship is situated within that.
  • It is recommended, in line with Section 6 of the Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act 2000, that children are consulted on the day to day running of the school as set out in the school’s Development Plan and that this should include consultation relating to religious observance.
  • It is recommended that the term ‘Religious Observance’ be formally changed to ‘Time for Reflection’ in order to be more inclusive.
Humanist Society Scotland has publicly stated its commitment to reform. In January 2014 we issues the following joint statement with the Church of Scotland:
‘The Church of Scotland and Humanist Society Scotland have called for legislation to be brought forward to change Religious Observance in schools to “Time for Reflection” as a way of making these events more inclusive and clearly not gatherings where one faith or belief system is promoted over another.’

Speaking after the release of the report, Gary McLelland, Head of Communications and Public Affairs for HSS, said:

“We welcome the publication of this report today. The report is a very comprehensive overview of the current state of law and policy around religious observance in Scotland.
“The report highlights some major challenges for the ongoing provision of RO in Scotland. The time has come for a full and frank debate about the future role of religion in education. It has been a decade since the last comprehensive review of RO in schools, and we agree with the authors of this report that the time has come for a fresh look.

“The outdated requirement for ‘religious’ observance has no place in a 21st century education system. We call upon Education Scotland and the Scottish Government to establish a working group to examine the rationale for the continuation of RO in schools, in-line with the report’s recommendations.”

The full report, and HSS response, can be found here: humanism.scot/what-we-do/research/collective-worship-and-religious-observance-in-schools/