Judicial review of religious observance rules in school shelved

Gordon MacRae

A legal attempt to let pupils decide whether they want to opt out of religious observance has been shelved after ministers issued new guidance to headteachers directing that children should be consulted about statutory worship, The Herald reports.

The Humanist Society Scotland (HSS) had sought judicial review of the current rules which only allow parents to opt out on behalf of their children.

But while ministers have said children should now be consulted, the HSS said the move did not go far enough.

The HSS has also been advised that it cannot seek judicial review on behalf of young people and is now planning on recruiting a pupil to take action with its support.

HSS chief executive Gordon MacRae said: “We were happy to agree to pause proceedings last December to allow them to take action and today’s guidance is a clear step in the right direction in the protection of young people’s human rights.”

However, he added: “We remain disappointed the court has not had an opportunity to consider our view, backed by expert legal opinion, that the current religious observance requirements in the classroom is incompatible with young people’s article 9 human rights to freedom of thought, belief or religion.

“HSS is now working with a number of young people to seek the earliest possible opportunity to support representations based on this human rights argument.”

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: “We have strengthened school guidance to make clear that children and young people should be involved in decisions about religious observance in their education, following consultation with key stakeholders including Humanist Society Scotland.”

He added: “We will keep the underpinning legislation under review as it remains important that schools support the values of a diverse, outward-looking Scotland.”

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