Religious Education: MAT Going To Court Over Christian Assemblies

Religious Education: MAT Going To Court Over Christian Assemblies

There are several good ways of educating children, but is a religious assembly one of them? We know religious education has a place in schools. Does that mean students should be forced to worship in a specific way? A large Church of England MAT is being taken to court because of the way one of its schools runs Christian worship. The school has no religious character.

Lee and Lizanne Harris have said that failing to provide their children with an alternative inclusive assembly at their primary school is breaching their human rights. They withdrew their children from Christian worship. The children were then left in a room with an iPad and a TA.

The parents object to their children being made to take part in Christian prayers and watch reenactment of Bible stories. Burford Primary School in Oxfordshire has no religious character, but became part of Oxford Diocesan Schools Trust (ODST) in 2015. The Harris’ said:

We enrolled our children into a state community school, which is meant to have no religious character. Over time we noticed harmful aspects of evangelism spreading into assembly and other parts of the school. This goes against our children’s rights to receive an education free from religious interference.

The case is the first around school worship to reach the High Court and will be heard on November 29th. Humanists UK, who are supporting the parents in the case, want the requirement for collective worship to be repealed. They say it should be replaced by a “requirement for inclusive assemblies, which forward the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of all pupils.”

A statement from ODST said they are “confident that Burford Primary School, as a community school, has acted entirely appropriately, and has followed all statutory requirements.”

Religious Education: What Does The Law Say?

State schools are required by law to include an act of daily worship. This should be “of a broadly Christian character.” Schools are able to apply for an exemption from this, while sixth form students can withdraw themselves. The Harris’ are aiming to ensure schools have to provide a meaningful alternative to collective worship which is of equal educational value. For example, not just sticking kids in a room with an iPad. In the case, the Harris’ claim that the lack of an alternative assembly breaches the Human Rights Act over the rights to freedom of belief of parents and pupils.

In their submission to the High Court, the parents also express concerns about “Christian indoctrination” in the school. This includes the leavers’ ceremony which is held in a church. At the ceremony, all leaving students receive a bible as a gift.

religious education

The couple went on to say:

When our children go to school they shouldn’t have to participate in Christian prayers, or watch biblical scenes such as the crucifixion being acted out. Nor should they have to hear from evangelical preachers who spout harmful and often divisive messages. We also don’t think it’s acceptable that they be left to play with an iPad because we’ve withdrawn them. They should be able to participate in an inclusive assembly that is of equal educational worth and which is welcoming and respectful of all students no matter their background.

As always, we want to know what you think. Does your school practice Christian assemblies? If so, what are your thoughts on them? If your school doesn’t would you like them to start? Be sure to let us know in the comments!

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