PZ points out a Guardian report on a UK headteacher who wanted to establish a completely secular school, only to be informed by senior government officials that it would be a 'political impossibility'. There is still a legal requirement in all state schools for pupils to take part in a daily act of worship of a broadly Christian nature, and Dr. Paul Kelley was informed this would be impossible to change:
One senior figure at the then Department for Education and Skills, told Kelley that bishops in the House of Lords and ministers would block the plans. Religion, they added, was 'technically embedded' in many aspects of education.Now I was lucky enough to complete most of my education in an international school abroad, but I returned to the UK for my A-Levels. I must admit that apart from a hymn or two once a month in assembly I can't recall any other of the trappings of religion intruding into my life, much less a 'daily act of worship' - I suspect this is something more honoured in the breach than in the observance. Of course, this doesn't change the fact that this is a ludicrous rule, and that it can't be changed highlights how ludicrous the system of having Bishops in the House of Lords is. That wasn't what really irritated me though. I'd like to pick out a couple of points from the article:
Dr Paul Kelley... wanted to challenge the legal requirement in all state schools for pupils to take part in a daily act of worship of a broadly Christian nature. There are only a handful of exceptions at faith schools where the daily worship can be based on a different religion.(My emphasis). I see. So basically, it doesn't matter which magical sky god you may want to praise, as long as you are praising some magical sky god. Because obviously, it's just the general praising that's important. Dear god (ha), won't someone think of the children! More seriously, this seems to be another case of 'believing in belief' - a general indication that all religious belief is good and that a life without it is morally deficient. Surely there must be some way of challenging this blatant discrimination against atheists?
The second point:
A spokesman for the Church of England said: 'If he is arguing for a way for individual schools to opt out of those bits of the act he does not like that is not something we would support. Either overtly or by default, this country is still a Christian one.'(Again, my emphasis.) What nonsense. Let's look at the stats shall we? Using the Tearfund survey (A Christian organisation, so if there is any bias it should be towards a more positive portrayal of the prevalence of Christianity), we see that whilst 53% of the UK identifies themselves as Christian, only 10% attend church weekly, with a further 5% attending monthly. Given that only 6% of the remaining 38% who claim to be Christian indicate they would consider attending church in the future, I think we can consider 21% as the upper bound for people with an active Christian belief. On the other hand, 39% of people identify themselves as having no religion. Now from those numbers, I don't think we can consider the UK 'overtly Christian'. What the Church of England means by 'by default' I don't know, but if they mean 'in name only' perhaps I agree with them - a slight majority of the UK would tick the box marked Christian if asked about religious affiliation, but that would be the only time the majority of them even thought about it. This seems quite a strange thing to be proud of however. In my view the UK is a secular nation with an unfortunate hangover from its religious past, as evidenced by it having a state religion that hardly anybody attends (2.8% of the UK attend a CoE church, according to the latest stats), but which still gets 26 seats in the House of Lords, and attempts to use this to bully anyone with a view it doesn't like out the way. We'll leave Dr. Kelley to sum it up:
'[enforced religious worship] is not, in my view, fair to a child and it is not offering them the opportunity to choose freely. The problem we are left with is a 19th-century architecture of education in a 21st-century environment.'And, I would add, the same in government.
UPDATE: I notice Feeding the Fish has also blogged about this here.