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.”

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.
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