The Humanist Society Scotland announced today that it was writing to Education Secretary John Swinney asking him to intervene personally after reports that up to 50 non-Catholic pupils were punished for refusing to attend a religious service led by the Bishop of Motherwell, Joseph Toal, above, at a Catholic secondary school.
The service at Taylor High School in New Stevenston, Motherwell, was a Patron’s Day mass that also celebrated Mother Teresa. It was reported that following the incident the pupils involved received a week’s worth of detentions.
Gordon MacRae, HSS chief executive, said the row highlighted the urgent need to reform the “outdated” requirement for religious observance in Scottish state schools.
Suspending a young person from school, and thus denying them access to education, for choosing not to take part in religious worship is outrageous. At a time when the Scottish Government is so focused on reform of our education system, the silence on this issue speaks volumes about how committed they are to children’s rights.
The HSS recently launched a judicial review against the Scottish Government over its refusal to allow sixth form pupils to opt out of religious services. Mr MacRae added:
Nicola Daley, the school’s acting head teacher, said the service, held on 30 September, was also been a memorial service for two staff members who died in May:
On Wednesday we learned that the Scottish Government is to appoint a QC to represent them against our judicial review. Our members and supporters have already helped us raise money to get to this stage, and we’ll do all we can to make sure we’re not outgunned by expensive lawyers.
Parents across Scotland will be dumbfounded to learn that the Scottish Government is using senior lawyers, at their expense, to fight off our calls for progressive reform.
The Scottish Government talk the talk on children’s rights, but have found themselves on the wrong side of this issue time and time again.
Regrettably, a small number of pupils, who had attended school in the morning opted to truant in the afternoon and miss the service.
The pupils have been subject to school discipline as a consequence of their actions.
Stephen Evans, Campaigns Director of the National Secular Society, said:
It is really outrageous that students, particularly sixth form pupils, should be punished for not sharing the faith ethos of a school.
Religious freedom includes the freedom to not have a religion and it’s scandalous that faith schools can get away with showing such scant regard for young people’s rights and freedoms. Schools are not homogeneous worshipping communities and it’s time they stopped acting as if they were.
Where schools do include acts of worship within the school day, pupils should always be able to opt themselves out.