UK School faces legal challenge over Christian assemblies
London, July 30, 2019 (AltAfrica)-A school in Oxfordshire, South East England is facing legal battle after being accused of hosting Christian assemblies which include “harmful and divisive messages”.
Parents who withdrew their two children from school assemblies after they were made to pray and watch re-enactments of Bible stories, including the crucifixion, have launched a High Court case to challenge the school’s decision to hold a daily act of Christian worship
Daily collective worship is compulsory in state-funded schools.
Lee and Lizanne Harris withdrew their children from assembly at Burford Primary School after their children expressed unhappiness at watching various Bible stories, including the crucifixion, being acted out as part of collective worship.
They are also concerned that, during assemblies, stories of God and Christianity are presented to pupils as ‘fact’ and ‘truth’ and that visiting church officials express harmful views to children.
After withdrawing their children, the Harrises asked the school to provide an alternative of equal educational worth for their children to attend. However, the school refused and their children were left in a separate room with an iPad and teaching assistant to supervise.
Supported by Humanists UK, the couple has been given permission by the High Court to launch a judicial review into the actions of the school.
In its petition, Humanists UK has urged the UK and Welsh Governments end compulsory worship and introduce a requirement that schools conduct inclusive assemblies, which promote the development of all pupils, regardless of their religious or non-religious beliefs.
While the school is run by the Oxford Diocesan Schools Trust, it’s not classified as a faith school.
Speaking of why they wanted to take action, the couple said: “We enrolled our children into a state community school – which is meant to have no religious character – but over time we noticed harmful aspects of evangelism spreading into assembly and other parts of the school which goes against our children’s rights to receive an education free from religious interference.
“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.”
Campaign group Humanists UK has long called for an overhaul of the laws surrounding school assemblies.
Currently all schools must have a daily act of broadly Christian worship.
Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said: “We are the only sovereign state in the world to require schools to hold daily Christian worship, yet 80% of our young people and 75% of people of parental age are not Christians.
“Our state schools are instead home to children of a broad diversity of cultures and backgrounds and they deserve and need inclusive activities that bring them together as one community.
“Requiring children to participate in religious worship and then marginalising them if in good conscience they cannot, ignores their right to freedom of religion or belief and is a negation of inclusion.”
Speaking on Premier’s News Hour, Alice Probert from Faith in Schools defending the role of assemblies.
She said: “They help to build community and shared values.
“They encourage moral development, spiritual development and social development so they have a really important place.”
Probert did however say those leading assemblies should tread carefully.
“People do need to be trained and equipped so it can be done appropriately so schools and parents are happy,” she said. “It’s really important we are authentic in our beliefs but to do it in an inclusive way.”
In a statement in response to the legal challenge, Anne Davey, chief executive of Oxford Diocesan Schools Trust, said: “ODST is confident that Burford Primary School has acted entirely appropriately, and has followed statute in ways that are similar to all local or indeed national schools.
“It has provided exactly what the law requires, which includes provision for children to be withdrawn if parents so request.”
The case will reignite controversy over the requirement for all schools in England and Wales to hold daily religious worship