A judicial review of Scottish students’ required participation in religious observance at school was approved on Tuesday, 13 September, following requests from several secularist campaign groups.
In reaction to the Scottish Government’s policy to refuse students aged 16 and below from opting out of religious observances in Scottish schools, many groups rallied against the policy being put into effect.
Groups such as the Humanist Society of Scotland (HSS) went further to file a legal challenge, which, if approved, would trigger a judicial review.
The main bodies that urged for this challenge argued that Scottish Parliament must follow England, Wales and UN Children’s Rights Committee’s recommendations that students should have the right to opt out of religious observance if desired.
Gordon MacRae, Chief Executive of the Humanist Society Scotland (HSS), has been a leader in the secularist discussion, and spoke to The Student about why he believed Scotland should be an entirely secular society. He highlighted that as Scotland continues to become more secular, what should be enforced at school is not “what to think” but instead “how to think.”
While the Scottish Government has ratified the right of a student’s parents to opt them out of religious observation at school, the HSS urges that this parental right of opting out should be extended to the pupils themselves.
MacRae also made clear that the HSS is not a humanist society that is anti-religious and instead a group which supports a fully secular Scotland. He explained how vital it is for the young people of Scotland to have their rights respected, and discussed how the choice to be unaffiliated from a religion is equally as important as one’s personal choice to associate with a religion.
However, Reverend Dr Richard Frazer of Greyfriars Kirk, presented his personal views to The Student about this debate. He expressed his belief that allowing pupils to opt out of religious observance should be “a matter not for individual conscience but for the collective mind of a society that shares values.”
Referring to religion as a “time for reflection,” Dr Frazer points out that “very few religious people now advocate religious observance as an opportunity for converting or indoctrinating people, rather it is a way of celebrating and appreciating diversity.”
Dr Frazer also highlighted that religion should be seen more as a way of understanding and engaging with society in a comprehensive manner.
However, he conceded that religion and the way it is treated throughout Scottish society is changing. “Whilst our society has largely a Christian past, it must be acknowledged that the dominance of the Christian faith is changing in its nature,” Frazer told The Student.
Image: Rebecca Siegel