Schools should no longer face a legal requirement to provide daily acts of Christian worship, under sweeping reforms proposed by a high profile survey of the place of faith in multicultural Britain.
The Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life, led by former High Court Justice Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, also recommends reducing the segregation of children by faith and a radical overhaul of the teaching of religion. belief to make it more realistic and relevant in a diverse context. and increasingly secular country.
The weighty report is expected to present proposals on where the faith will take place at the next coronation, as well as examine religion in relation to education, the criminal justice system, the media, social welfare and politics. Patrons of the commission include the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and its members are drawn from all major faiths in the UK.
Among his proposals is the repeal of a legal requirement for most public schools to hold daily acts of corporate worship that are wholly or primarily Christian in character. Non-Christian denominational schools are allowed to choose their own form of worship. “The case for maintaining compulsory Christian worship in UK schools is no longer…convincing,” the report said, according to the draft seen by the Observer. Instead, the commission endorses an inclusive “time out,” encompassing children of all faiths and no religion.
Instead of the current legal requirement, the report urges the government to issue new guidance that would build on “current best practice for inclusive assemblies and reflective times that draw on a range of sources, which are appropriate to students and staff of all religions”. and beliefs, and which will contribute to their spiritual, moral, social and cultural development”.
The report’s conclusion on religious assemblies adds to a growing demand for reform. Most schools ignore the law governing corporate Christian worship, with two-thirds of parents telling a 2011 ComRes survey that their children did not attend religious assemblies. Six out of 10 people said the law should not be enforced.
Former education secretary Charles Clarke called for the abolition of compulsory daily worship this year, saying “the decision on the form and character of school assemblies should be left to the governors of individual schools”. Last year, John Pritchard, Bishop of Oxford, said collective worship should be replaced by “spiritual reflection”.
The report also points to the “negative practical consequences of selection by religion” in denominational schools. A third of schools in England are state-funded denominational schools, the vast majority of which are Christian. In Northern Ireland, over 90% of children attend Protestant or Catholic schools.
“In our opinion, it is not clear that the segregation of young people in denominational schools has fostered greater cohesion or that it has not been socially divisive, leading to more misunderstanding and tension” , says the report. “Religious selection segregates children not only on the basis of their differing religious heritage but also, frequently and effectively, on the basis of their ethnic and socio-economic background. This undermines equal opportunity and encourages parents to be insincere about their religious affiliation and practice.
Agencies responsible for admissions policies should reduce religion-based selection in publicly funded schools, he concludes. Faith-based schools are also exempt from certain aspects of employment law, to allow religion to be a criterion for teacher recruitment – a practice, according to the commission, which the British authorities must monitor for possible abuses.
A massive recruitment and retraining program for teachers of religion and belief is needed, the report says. The subject must be dealt with “seriously and deeply in these unprecedented times of religious confusion and tension”.
The content of programs on religion and belief does not reflect reality and is too sanitized, he says. “They tend to present religions only in a good light, focusing on the role of religions in encouraging peace, harmony and care for the poor and the environment, and omitting the role of religions in the reinforcement of stereotypes and prejudices around issues such as gender, sexuality, ethnicity and race, and attempts to use religion as justification for terrorism.
Curricula should reflect the diversity of religions and beliefs in the UK and include non-religious worldviews, such as humanism, the report says.
Last month the High Court ruled in favor of three families and the British Humanist Association, who had challenged the exclusion of non-religious worldviews from the government’s new GCSE religious studies curriculum. The content of the course had to be pluralistic, the court said. The commission points out that public schools in the UK are subject to four jurisdictions, each with its own legal requirements regarding religion and belief.
Created by the Woolf Institute, which studies relations between Christians, Muslims and Jews, the commission counts among its sponsors Williams, Iqbal Sacranie, former general secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain, and Lord Woolf, former chief justice. Members were drawn from all major faiths in the UK, academia, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the British Humanist Association.
Two-year public consultations were held by the commission as part of its research. In addition to public hearings in London, Birmingham, Belfast, Cardiff, Glasgow, Leeds and Leicester, the public was invited to submit opinions and contributions by post and email.