Two parents who fought the Church of England over a mandatory religious worship session in their local school have come out victorious.
The saga began in 2015, when Lee Harris and his wife Lizanne found out their kids’ public school was being taken over by the Oxford Diocesan Schools Trust (ODST). Instead of merely offering generic religion classes (which are legal there), the new assemblies were explicitly Christian.
The Harrises asked for their children to be removed from those assemblies, as is their right, but the school didn’t offer any decent alternative. It’s as if they took the kids who didn’t want to be there and just shoved them in a separate room until it was all over.
The Harrises eventually turned to the school’s governors with a few simple requests. They wanted the school to “justify its current policy of collective worship” and stop having the local church run assemblies. They wanted teachers to run those events instead. They also asked for the school to “maintain a community school ethos, as opposed to a faith-based ethos” and not alienate kids who didn’t want to participate.
The governors rejected those requests.
But in July, the pressure on the school stepped up after the High Court agreed to hear this case, similar to a U.S. District Court allowing a case to proceed.
And now, a week before the case was scheduled to go to court, the ODST has agreed to all of the Harrises’ requests.
The Oxford Diocesan Schools Trust agreed to meet all of the parents’ requests, including providing an inclusive alternative assembly run by a teacher for all students withdrawn. It must now inform all parents that an alternative assembly is on offer. Religious observance and referencing “God as truth” will be able to take place only in designated collective worship sessions.
Andrew Copson, the chief executive of Humanists UK, said: “The 75-year-old English law requiring daily religious worship is so antiquated that it has collapsed in the face of its first legal challenge, without the case being seen through to court. Parliament should now act to replace it with a new requirement for inclusive assemblies in keeping with the nature of our plural society and government should take a lead in that.”
It’s a tremendous victory by David over a religious Goliath.
Any education system that puts religious beliefs over actual learning is messed up to begin with, but even a traditional, more ecumenical faith can underlie the work a school does without putting targets on some students’ backs. When non-Christian students are made to feel like outcasts because they don’t accept the myths that are being forced upon them, it’s the school’s fault.
The only people who said otherwise were the people in charge of running the school — and now even they’ve seen the light.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Brian for the link. Portions of this article were published earlier)