A petition has appeared on the Edinburgh City Council website raising the issue of religious observances in non-denominational schools in the city.
Currently, all schools in Edinburgh (be they non-religious state schools or otherwise) are required to provide religious education as well as opportunities to participate in religious observances. The legal mandate to do so dates all the way back to 1872.
Veronica Wikman, who started the petition, wants the requirement for religious observances scrapped. She currently has one child in a non-denominational school and wants the council to push through changes to what she considers to be an out of date law:
Religious observance has nothing to do with education but everything to do with religious indoctrination. The Church of Scotland has not owned our schools since 1872. It should retain no privileged access to the education of my child or any other.
Responding to the a question about the petition on BBC Radio Scotland, the Reverend Ian Galloway, from Gorbals Parish Church in Glasgow, said;
Religious observance in schools is not about the church, or anybody else, having free access to children to do what they like. Religious observance is not about direct indoctrination of religion and I would be absolutely against any form of indoctrination in any school. We are concerned with advancing the experience of young people, helping them to grow up as full, healthy human beings and that includes being able to explore the spiritual dimension of their lives, along with the others.
It must be said that this petition only affects state schools under the control of the Edinburgh City Council, but it could prove to be an interesting test case for the rest of Scotland and, indeed, the rest of the UK. I think these kind of laws will be slowly phased out in the next decade or so anyway, but there are lots of reasons to be positive about change sooner rather than later. The most recent census shows that a growing percentage of the population identifies as non-religious. Even the conservative government has not only backed but also passed gay marriage reform.
The petition runs until the 7th of May and is well on its way to the 500 signatures needed to require the motion to be considered by the council’s Petitions Committee.