Renewed calls to end religious approval for teachers

Renewed calls have been made regarding bringing to an end religious approval for teachers.

In an interview with the Sunday Herald, Larry Flanagan head of Scotland’s largest teaching union EIS said of the approval system which currently exists in Scotland’s denominational schools:

“We are not in favour of the current operation of approval by the Catholic Church.

“What used to exist before was a limited operation of approval around pastoral case posts. By and large we would prefer not to see approval there at all.

“If you apply to work in a [Catholic school] then de facto you are accepting that’s the nature of the school. It would be a reasonable expectation that you would not behave counter to that kind of ethos. So, on that basis, there wouldn’t necessarily be the need for any kind of ring-fencing of particular posts.”

This most recent call from the head of a 60,000 strong teaching union adds further pressure on the role of religious organisations in Scotland’s schools.

Humanist Society Scotland’s Campaign and Communications Manager Fraser Sutherland welcomed the comments and said:

“We don’t believe that discrimination on the basis of religious background is appropriate in recruiting teachers for Scotland’s schooling system. Children and young people deserve to be taught by the best teachers in all Scottish schools no matter what their religion is or is not.

“We don’t tolerate discrimination for recruitment of other public servants like doctors or police officers, so why should we tolerate it for teachers? The Humanist Society Scotland believe Scotland’s schooling system should be multi-denominational, with schools being inclusive to both children and staff, of all faiths and none, in all that they do.”

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.”

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 or 07813060713.

The booklets can be viewed and downloaded for free at:

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:

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:

In March 7 2016 HSS released a detailed exposé of unelected religious representatives on local eduction committees: More information at:

External research: 70.8% of 14-17 years have no religion (Survey of young Scots, 2013,

In August 2015 the Scottish Households Survey found that nearly one-in-two households in Scotland are non-religious:

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:

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.

Humanist School Visitor Training now open to HSS Members

Being an HSS School Visitor is a great way to get more involved, and help to educate young people about humanism. This half-day training course will enable you to join our network of trained school visitors.

Being an HSS School Visitor is a voluntary role and it is very flexible, it’s completely up to you how much, or how little, time you are able to give.

HSS School Visitors take part in RME (Religious and Moral Education) lessons at the invitation of teachers, and help to demonstrate how non-religious ethics, such as Humanism, can be applied in the real world.

As an HSS School Visitor you can expect to get requests from schools, youth clubs and other groups to participate in classes, group discussions and debates. You will have support from the HSS staff team as well as the network of other school visitors across Scotland.

All HSS school visitors should be paid-up members of the Society, or prepared to become a member during the training.

You can now register for either of the training days:

We hope to have more training days available in other parts of  Scotland in the coming months.

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

These are the un-elected religious reps influencing Scotland’s education. Faith school or not. #EnlightenUp

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

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

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

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

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

I want to see a modern and progressive approach to education in Scotland. That’s why I support #EnlightenUp 

Unelected religious reps hold the balance of power in 19 out of 32 council educational committees #EnlightenUp 

I don’t want unelected religious reps to have power to rule on inclusive education That’s why I support #EnlightenUp 

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

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

We need to talk about the role of religion in schools  #EnlightenUp

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

Support the #EnlightenUp campaign today, I do!

I think education should be democratic, inclusive and fair. Do you agree?

Who has a seat on your education committee? @humanistsociety exposed some unelected religious reps #EnlightenUp

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



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 / 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

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


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
Broadcast-quality audio:

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.

Catholic church condemned for using “blocking tactics” against sex education

The Catholic church been condemned by Humanist Society Scotland in a bitter row with the NHS in Scotland over what they call “sinister” plans to open sex and relationships centres in or near their schools.

Sex and relationships education at state-funded Catholic schools has long been the subject of bitter debate – with church officials imposing strict regulation on what can and can’t be taught in classrooms.

In November 2014 Humanist Society Scotland ran a campaign to have guidance around sex education reformed. In their submission to a Scottish Government consultation Humanist Society Scotland highlighted correspondence between Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board and The Scottish Parliament Health and Sport Committee:

“We do have a concern that denominational schools which represents a third of the school estate in this area, may not be providing the same high quality level of SHRE to children, young people and parents. We have no feedback available from denominational schools on what is being taught, what training teaching staff may have had or what involvement parents have had in their children‘s learning. From our own staff that routinely work with schools, we have an understanding that they can be routinely denied access to denominational schools, or can only do so only if key issues, especially matters to do with sexual health and relationships are not discussed with children and young people.”

Health bosses have claimed that the church’s refusal to teach safe sex leaves teens at risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unwanted pregnancies.

Now the government has proposed a new set of drop-in sexual health centres – targeted specifically at pupils from denominational schools.

But the body representing Catholic schools has denounced the “underhand” plan as “sinister” and in “direct opposition” to the wishes of parents.

The proposals for clinics have come in the government’s new Pregnancy and Parenthood in Young People Strategy – due to be published next month.

As part of the strategy they have consulted with sexual healthcare bosses across the country – some of whom have hit out at Catholic schools directly.

Bosses at NHS Lothian have said that they see a particular need for such schemes as a result of Catholic schools in their catchment.

They have told the government that sex and relationship education in Catholic schools is “too frequently not equipping young people with the information and access to services that they need.”

NHS Lanarkshire’s sexual health team have also called for council education departments to take a “much more proactive role” in referrals to sexual health clinics.

And – they say – this should include the deployment of free condom schemes, in spite of the church taking a stance against their use.

Their submission reads: “There are ‘significant discrepancies’ in the advice pupils receive in different schools.

“This continues to put the health outcomes of children and young people at risk and puts local authorities in the position of providing unequal goods or services on the basis of religion.”

It goes on to level a criticism specifically at Catholic schools.

“Objective, non-judgemental information and support is very difficult to achieve when we still have state-sponsored segregated education on the basis of religious belief.”

It also calls for an “enforcement” of equal access to sex health information regardless of where pupils are enrolled.

Colin Anderson, senior health promotion officer at NHS Lanarkshire, said that pupils are specifically “at risk” of STIs, unplanned pregnancies and domestic violence if sex and relationship education in schools was inadequate.

Gary McLelland, head of communications and public affairs for the Humanist Society Scotland, said:
“Sex and relationships education is essential to promoting health and well-being. It is a child’s right to access high quality evidence-based sex and relationships education.

“Most parents will be surprised to learn that publicly-funded Catholic schools want to block access to information about reproductive health for children and young people. It’s astonishing that the Scottish Catholic Education Service continue to fight against these important public health reforms.

“We already know, from information obtained by the Scottish Parliament, that health chiefs in Greater Glasgow are alarmed about the blocking tactics used by some Catholic schools.

“With over two-thirds of young people in Scotland claiming no religion, it’s astonishing that the Scottish Catholic Education Service thinks it has any place blocking health services for young people in Scotland.

“In the coming weeks, ahead of the 2016 Holyrood elections, Humanist Society Scotland will be outlining our vision for reform of the education system in Scotland.”

Adapted from Deadline News. Image Courtesy: Dave Wilson, Creative Commons.

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