Atheist Parents Launch Legal Challenge against Christian Assemblies in Church-Run School

Country: United Kingdom

Date of incident: July 29, 2019

Category: Social Hostility / Intolerance

Area of case: Anti-Religion or humanism groups

An atheist couple launched a high court challenge because they feel their children are being religiously "indoctrinated" during assemblies at the Burford primary school in the Cotswolds in Oxfordshire, one of 33 schools of the Church of England's Oxford Diocesan Schools Trust (ODST). Parents are entitled to withdraw their children from assemblies such as these, even in church-run schools, which is what the couple did. However, they argue that the school must provide an "inclusive assembly as a meaningful alternative for pupils withdrawn from Christian worship," rather than simply supervision of the children.

The atheist couple complain that Burford primary school, an academy under the Church of England's Oxford Diocesan Schools Trust, made their children take part in Christian prayers and watch biblical scenes re-enacted in their regular assemblies. The couple "noticed harmful aspects of evangelism spreading into assembly" athough the trust says it is "motivated by our Christian values to serve our local communities, but we do not impose those values … We welcome those of all faiths and none, and we are proud of the ethnic diversity within our academies which reflects that of their local community." Even all state schools are obligated to offer an act of daily worship of a "broadly Christian character" under the 1944 Education Act.

Burford primary school was a state community school when the couple enrolled their children, however, it became an academy in 2015 and joined the Church of England’s Oxford Diocesan Schools Trust and according to the trust "Collective worship, which is a statutory requirement in all church and community schools, is aimed at encouraging pupils to develop a sense of mystery, awe and wonder about the world. This is all done through listening to stories from a wide range of different cultures and religions, giving time for children to think about themselves, and the contribution they all make to our society."

The couple's case will be heard at the high court on the 29th of November 2019 and they will argue that the school must offer an alternative assembly for students withdrawn from the Christian assembly. The trust said it is "confident that Burford primary school, as a community school, has acted entirely appropriately, and has followed all statutory requirements."

Source: The Guardian

Photo by Jaggery, CC BY-SA 2.0 (cropped)