Scottish National Church Is Livid Over Proposal To Ask Parents If Kids Should Worship in Public Schools

I hate online stores that begin sending you a barrage of promotional e-mails after you place an order. They’re “opt-out” merchants, telling you belatedly — in tiny type — that you must choose not to receive their ads (to their credit, this is usually a quick and painless process, but by the time I do it, they’ve already put a bad taste in my mouth).

Like most consumers, I much prefer the opt-in approach. Some stores and brands are of enough interest to me that I like receiving their newsletters and special offers, and I’ll actively sign up. I would prefer that decision to be mine from the get-go, obviously.

The same thing goes for religion, times ten. It’s unwise to assume that I or my kids are dying to be anointed with religious snake oil, so please don’t sign us up unbidden for anything related to your phantasmagorical beliefs.

In short, don’t be like Scotland.

If you have children in a Scottish school, it is somehow understood that you want them automatically enrolled in religious instruction as well as in actual worship. To say “No thanks,” you have to fill out paperwork to permanently excuse your tykes from the Jesus-y goodness that is so kindly proffered.

Why doesn’t the assumption run the other way — with the default being that no child ought to be subjected to state-sponsored religious indoctrination without active parental permission?

That’s what the Scottish Secular Society would like to know, too.

The Scottish Secular Society has launched a new campaign to force schools to create an “opt-in” system for religious observance. Currently all pupils in schools across Scotland are automatically involved in religious worship and parents are given the option to withdraw their children if they wish. But the Scottish Secular Society has launched a petition demanding an opt-in, rather than opt-out, system that will effectively require parents to give consent before their children are permitted to participate.

Sounds reasonable, right? Not to the so-called Free Church of Scotland it doesn’t. They huffily call the petition “secular tyranny.”

The Reverend David Robertson, a Free Church minister in Dundee and director of the Solas Centre for Public Christianity said: “Statistics go against the Scottish Secular Society — they are a tiny group of people who are seeking to impose their will and their philosophy on the vast majority of Scottish parents.”

The church claims that most parents are happy for their children to be involved in school-based endorsements of Christianity — but is evidently unwilling to put that to the test.

The Christians further allege that

… the society’s campaign [is] part of a wider agenda to eliminate religion from public schools.

Well, ladies and gents, to be honest, it doesn’t belong there to begin with.

Robertson’s reference to statistics is puzzling. I very much doubt that he can produce any that show a net gain for his side. Earlier this year, numbers released by the British National Secular Society revealed a dramatic drop in religious observance in Scotland.

Over the past decade the number of Scots saying they belong to a Christian faith has fallen from almost two-thirds (65%), as recorded in the 2001 census, to 55% today. Over the same period, the number of those who follow no religion has risen from 28% to 39%.

While 70% of men aged 55 and over, and 78% of women in the same group, call themselves Christian in the poll, only 34% of men aged 18–34 and 33% of women of this age do so. …

The drop in support for the Church of Scotland, once regarded as the national church, is particularly acute. While 42% said they belonged to the kirk [Church of Scotland] in the 2001 census, only 32% do so in the latest survey of 1,002 Scottish adults.

The group that encompasses the most parents of school-age children is especially secular. Considering that the non-religious folks in that demographic already form a majority, it seems to me that the petition of the Scottish Secular Society is very modest indeed.

If I had something to say about it, I’d indeed be pushing for the eradication of religious observance from public schools. Scotland’s national church has neither the numbers nor the moral or legal standing to support anything short of that.

(Image via Shutterstock)

About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder and Main Mischief Maker of Moral Compass, a site that pokes fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards.

  • Graham Martin-Royle

    One of our major problems is that the UK, of which Scotland is a part, is officially a christian nation with un-elected members of the Church of England automatically given seats in the upper chamber of parliament.

    We also have to problem that in England (hopefully a Scottish reader of this site will clarify if the position is the same in Scotland) all state schools must have a religious assembly every day which must be largely christian based. That’s actually written down in law!

    • Jennifer T

      Hello, Scottish reader here. To my knowledge, the “collective act of worship” provision applies throughout the UK. This despite the fact that only England has an established state church.

      • Graham Martin-Royle

        Thanks Jennifer. Damn, and there was I thinking you Scots had a bit more common sense, lol.

      • Mark Gordon

        I am the author of the petition. Scots law enshrines Religious Observance (Common worship) in public schools. government guidance says a minimum of 6 times per year but more frequently is advised. Some schools do the bare minimum while others have daily. The norm will be somewhere in the middle.

        Scotland doesnt have an de jure established church but a de facto one. There is no difference in reality. Further to this we have unelected clergy on Local Authority education boards.

    • Duncan Lundie

      The requirement for a “Collective act of worship” in Scottish schools stems from the agreement reached between the Church of Scotland and the government to have the state take over running schools created by the kirk. Currently (as Mark Gordon said already) these must happen at least 6 times per year. The number will depend on the whim of the head teacher. In case your readers aren’t aware, Scotland also (stemming from the same law) has a segregated education system whereby the state funds explicitly Catholic schools.

  • 3lemenope


    [Shakes fist]

  • WallofSleep

    “Why doesn’t the assumption run the other way — with the default being
    that no child ought to be subjected to state-sponsored religious
    indoctrination without active parental permission?”

    Because this is Scotland we’re talking about, not the U.S.

    Huh? Wait… shit, never mind.

  • Fred

    The kirk probably knows, as does the secular society, that the way you ask a question matters in how people respond to it. If something is presented as normal and you have to opt out to avoid it, a significant number of people will just go with the flow, because people are social animals and like doing what other people are doing, and because people are busy.

    It’s not just Scotland, btw. In my school days in England, we used to have to attend assemblies where there was an element of worship- we would sing a religious song, like ‘lord of the dance’ or listen to a short talk about morality. It was wishy-washy, non-denominational stuff, but still clearly christian. As far as I know, it’s still mandatory for schools to provide these assemblies. I remember them as deadly boring. Maybe if the secular society succeeds in Scotland, we can try something similar south of the border?

    • Graham Martin-Royle

      It’s still the law here in the UK Fred. Let’s hope they manage to get it changed up in Scotland, then, as you say, we can try to get it changed here as well.

    • Mark Gordon

      Arguably its worse in England and Wales – there it can be daily worship. Scotland its most likely weekly or every two weeks.

    • Cassiopeia

      We had hymns and prayers in my primary school in England.

      I only knew one person who actually regularly went to church though. The rest of us just sang along without meaning any of it and paid no attention during the prayers bit (prime time for talking to your friend).

  • Commander Vimes

    This is the church that, some years ago, suspended one of it’s elders for the heinous crime of attending two funerals of colleagues – problem was they were both in Roman Catholic churches and that’s a no-no for Free Presbyterians.

    • Mark Gordon

      Robertson is on record as agreeing with our petition but refusing to publicly endorse it later.

  • the moother

    Religion is so keen on indoctrinating kids because you gotta get ‘em young if they are ever to believe that whacky bullshit.

  • DavidMHart

    This isn’t the ‘Scottish national church’ – Scotland has no established church (unlike England, where the Church of England is still the official government-sponsored religion). But if it did, it would be the Church of Scotland, not the Free Church of Scotland, which, in something of a Judean People’s Front sort of manner, is a splinter group with its stronghold in the Gaelic-speaking north-west of the country. Robertson, however, is based on the East coast, in Dundee, and is known to me from a few arguments over facebook in which he has attempted to defend the position that we should not grant gay people the same marriage rights as everyone else because we’ll immediately have to grant the same to incestuous couples and polygamous relationships rather than being able to discuss the pros and cons of those separate issues in due course. He may even have brought up bestiality, I don’t remember.

    He’s also pretty much the only spokesperson for the Wee Frees that you ever hear about in the news, leading one to suspect that their numbers are very low.

    Yeah, they’re that sort of church, and not really representative of the more liberal Church of Scotland.

    • Mark Gordon

      The notion of whether the Church of Scotland is etablished is moot. It effectively IS established. You’re right about Robertson. He is very vocal for very low numbers.

  • EvolutionKills

    I have read Genesis, and if it has taught me anything, it’s that having faith in Yahweh doesn’t automatically instill you with any aptitude in statistics, probability, physics, geometry, or basic fucking algebra.

  • Colin Rosenthal

    “While 70% of men aged 55 and over, and 78% of women in the same group, call themselves Christian in the poll, only 34% of men aged 18–34 and 33% of women of this age do so. …”

    On the plus side, that does rather suggest that the collective acts of worship aren’t having much effect.

  • Oranje

    Why does the second girl from the left appear to be choking herself as she prays?

    • baal

      It improves the experience?

    • b s

      Force-choked for not having enough faith?