Scottish Government face legal challenge over Religious Observance in schools

Date: 20th September 2016
Category: Freedom of thought, conscience and religion

The Humanist Society Scotland are to seek a Judicial Review of a decision by the Scottish Government not to allow young people to opt-out of religious observance, as is possible for children in England and Wales and as recommended by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

The Humanist Society believe that the parental right to opt-out should be extended to young people, as is currently the case in England and Wales and that by refusing to allow this opt-out, the Scottish Government have potentially acted unlawfully.

Humanist Society Scotland have submitted papers to the Court of Session in order to challenge Scottish Ministers over their refusal to allow young people to opt-out of Religious Observance. The legal action follows a decision by Ministers not to update their guidance to teachers in light of the most recent UN Children's Rights Committee review which called on the Scottish Government to extend the parental right to opt-out of Religious Observance to young people. The Humanist Society, after taking expert legal advice, believe that the Scottish Government may have acted unlawfully by refusing to ensure their guidance remains in line with current international human rights law.

In Scotland all young people require parental permission to withdraw from Religious Observance, unlike England and Wales where sixth form pupils (typically aged 16-18) have the right to opt-out. The launch of this litigation comes after a report funded by HSS highlighted the increased role of religion in Scottish education, despite increased secularisation of other areas of public life.

The new 2016 Concluding Observations by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child states on page 7, in respect of religious observance:

'The Committee recommends that the State party repeal legal provisions for compulsory attendance at collective worship in publicly funded schools and ensure that children can independently exercise the right to withdraw from religious worship at school.'