Earlier this year, when the UK Department for Education issued its new curriculum for GCSE Religious Studies classes, the focus was on: Christianity, Catholicism, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism and Sikhism. Humanism, a belief system reflected by far more people than some of the religions on that list combined, wasn’t given the same treatment.
That’s why three parents eventually filed a lawsuit against the government (with the help of the British Humanist Association).
Yesterday, in a major decision from Britain’s High Court, a judge ruled that Education Secretary Nicky Morgan (below) was wrong to exclude Humanism from the Religious Studies classes in the country.
From now on, the judge said, explicitly non-religious beliefs will have to be treated the same as religious ones:
The ruling was a victory for three families, supported by the British Humanist Association (BHA), who claimed Morgan had taken a skewed approach and was failing to reflect in schools the pluralistic nature of the UK.
Kate Bielby, of Frome in Somerset, one of the parents who brought the action, said: “My daughter and I are delighted by today’s decision and the clear statement that it makes in support of equality of religion and belief. It is long past time that the beliefs of the non-religious were treated on an equal footing with religions in the school curriculum.”
The judge specifically said that it wasn’t wrong, per se, to permit a curriculum “which is wholly devoted to the study of religion,” but because the curriculum included an assertion that the new course would “fulfil the entirety of the state’s [religious education] duties,” it was saying that non-religious views could be kept out without a problem. That’s where they crossed the line.
The British Humanist Association welcomed the decision:
BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson said, ‘We have made the case for many decades that the school curriculum on religions should include major non-religious worldviews such as humanism. It is great news that the Court has now said the law is with us. This is a stunning victory for the three humanist families who stood up to the Government on this issue. It is also a victory for the vast majority of people who believe in the importance of a religious education curriculum that is inclusive, balanced, and pluralistic, and which contributes to mutual understanding between people of all religions and none.
‘We look forward to working with the Government to ensure that the changes required by the judgement are implemented and hope they will use this as an opportunity to improve the GCSE for the benefit of all children. Continuing to exclude the views of a huge number of Britons, in the face of majority public opinion and all expert advice, would only be to the detriment of education in this country and a shameful path to follow.’
The curriculum won’t change in the near future, but schools will have to make room for non-religious perspectives when teaching the course. It’s good news for anyone who opposes religious indoctrination in state schools.