Free Church minister accuses humanists of ‘fundamental dishonesty’ over religious observance opt-out campaign

This article appeared in The National today.

Free Church minister accuses humanists of ‘fundamental dishonesty’ over religious observance opt-out campaign

A LEADING Free Church of Scotland minister has accused humanists of being “fundamentally dishonest” over their legal challenge to give pupils the right to opt out of religious observance in Scottish schools.

The former moderator of the Free Church of Scotland hit out at claims by the Humanist Society Scotland (HSS) that the Scottish Government’s refusal to update guidance in the wake of the UN review meant ministers had potentially acted unlawfully.

Rev David Robertson, who is also director of the Solas Centre for Public Christianity, said: “I think what the Humanist Society is doing is disingenuous and fundamentally dishonest. My view is they want to get rid of Christianity, and in fact all religions, from the Scottish state education system altogether. That is what they are working towards. I noticed when I looked on the Scottish Secular’s website there was delight, like ‘oh, get rid of the whole thing’.

“I think this is their first step towards doing that. I think that the Scottish Government has a legal right to have these acts of worship because they’re not compelling anyone because people can withdraw. I think it is part of an ongoing campaign to try and remove Christianity, in particular, from schools in Scotland.”

He insisted that if the humanists want their own schools then they should have them but he warned schools that were handed over to the state from churches would need to be given back.

Robertson added: “Humanists are always looking for some way to try and exclude anything that doesn’t fit their point of view. I think there should be more Christianity in schools, not less.

“Remember that the Scottish state education systems were split into Catholic and non-denominational, and all churches handed over all their schools to the state on the condition they would continue to be basically Christian schools.

“If we are moving towards an education system in which Christianity is excluded, then, what I would say is, one – give us our schools back, and two – we have to have a greater variety in education, because the United Nations charter on human rights and the European Court of Human Rights both state parents have the right to have their children educated in accordance with their philosophical and religious convictions and that is a human right that needs to be maintained.

“So, if the humanists want to have humanists schools then let them do it, and you could have Catholic schools, broadly Christian schools, or whatever, providing they fit in with the criteria the Scottish Government puts forward. I would think let parents choose, let’s have that diversity, but what the humanists are proposing is that we only have humanist schools.”

HSS is seeking a judicial review at the Court of Session in Edinburgh after the Scottish Government rejected calls for a change to the current rules which permit only parents to opt out on their children’s behalf. The move follows a recent review by the United Nations Children’s Rights Committee which recommended the parental right to opt out of religious observance should be extended to young people.

Under the legal action submitted the HSS has deliberately not specified at what stage children should be given the right to avoid religious observance in schools, but a number of options are available from 13 upwards.

The Scottish Government believes its position chimes with the European Convention of Human Rights, which rules that learning and teaching must take place in a way that respects both religious and non-religious beliefs and it has been argued that schools already have a duty to take into account the views of their pupils who would be expected to discuss the issue of withdrawal with their parents.

Reacting to Robertson’s comments, HSS Chief Executive Gordon MacRae said: “Religious Observance is a legal requirement for all Scottish schools. We have worked hard for years to secure progressive reform of this outdated requirement.

“However, our efforts to seek reform have failed. What we are now asking is that the Scottish Government respect the rights of young people to be able to opt-out of religious observance if they wish.”

“The issue of Religious Observance is very different to education about religion and belief. A broad education help children develop an understanding of a range of religious views and non-religious beliefs, that is why HSS works closely with Education Scotland and others to help support and develop the RME (Religious and Moral Education) curriculum.”

What I find interesting is that this article is the second most popular on The National website.   And the comments afterwards.  The Humanists/Atheists/Secularists really can’t grasp why we would want any other education system than theirs.  They don’t seem to realise that we pay taxes too and we don’t want our taxes paying for an education system which indoctrinates our children against what they are taught at home.  That is a basic human right which they want to deny to us.   What is also interesting is that this is an argument that we are winning in the wider society.  There are many people who are not Christians who understand the need for equality and diversity and are appalled by the militant and exclusive doctrines of the secularists!


14 thoughts on “Free Church minister accuses humanists of ‘fundamental dishonesty’ over religious observance opt-out campaign

  1. I think what baffles the humanists/atheists/secularists is the suggestion that what they believe is an opinion. In their minds their belief system is an obvious statement of objective fact which only ignorance, bigotry and/or the desire of unscrupulous clerics to wield power over the credulous could oppose. You might say, indeed, that these humanists/atheists/secularists possess a high degree of faith in a series of essentially unprovable propositions although for the most part they lack the self-awareness to acknowledge the fact.

  2. Mmm.

    “The Humanists/Atheists/Secularists really can’t grasp why we would want any other education system than theirs.”

    Because the current one is closer to yours than we would like. Having children pray at the instigation of the state is, in this day and age where society is much more diverse with a very broad range of beliefs and none, quite odd.

    “They don’t seem to realise that we pay taxes too and we don’t want our taxes paying for an education system which indoctrinates our children against what they are taught at home.”

    Thats an interesting accusation. What, and please do give examples drawn from Curriculum for Excellence (http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/resources/), are schools teaching that are indoctrinating them against what they are taught at home? There is a clear and considerable to difference between teaching the world as it is (say, the biological processes of procreation) and when and why certain things should be done (the actual act of sexual intercourse). No school will say anything other than sex should only take place when both partners are ready and in a safe and no-one should be pressured into sex. That is not *teaching* that sex *should* take place outside of marriage. That is where religion comes in and says sex should only take place in a marriage between a man and a woman.

    “That is a basic human right which they want to deny to us.”

    No. Parents have an explicit right in the European Convention of Human Rights to bring up their children in the religion or belief of their choice without interference from the state. However, they do not have a right to state funding for confessional religious teaching or ‘faith’ schools that are in line with their own beliefs. Basically we don’t believe in the segregation of children in environments where they are learning.

    “What is also interesting is that this is an argument that we are winning in the wider society. There are many people who are not Christians who understand the need for equality and diversity and are appalled by the militant and exclusive doctrines of the secularists!”

    I’d be interested in the evidence for this. My own anecdotal evidence suggests that there are more and more people who generally dont take a hard position on any given topic and those who do drift towards the organisations that offer it. I’ve written here before on that – your church grows as the Church of Scotland declines. HSS and SSS grow as more parents realise that it is hard to remove their children from religious observance and get the promised alternative activities from schools. Never mind the evangelical bus visits and trips to Bible exhibitions (not in actual museums or meeting any academic standard).

    “There are many people who are not Christians who understand the need for equality and diversity and are appalled by the militant and exclusive doctrines of the secularists!”

    And likewise there are Christians who understand the need for equality and diversity and are appalled by the fundamentalist doctrines of the evangelicals.

    1. Ironic that in the name of diversity you want to ban prayers!

      I have countless examples of children coming home telling their parents things they have been taught which go against their faith – including mockery and abuse. I suspect there is far more abuse of Christians than their are of homosexuals…yet the Humanists are silent about the former? I wonder why?

      The ECHR does not state what you say. There is a requirement for States to provide education, and for it to be in accordance with the religious beliefs of the parents. Can you not see how uninclusive and arrogant it is for you to demand that all education be according to your philosophical beliefs, even for those who do not share them?

      1. We want a diverse and non-segregated school community. Devoting teaching time and school resources to acts that are not diverse, that seek to promote a difference between pupils and, as its the state funding it, demonstrating clearly a privilege that others do not have is not an act of diversity. A diverse school community and a teaching time is not one that favours one group over another. School space can be made available for things like bible clubs and prayers – diversity is to be welcomed but privileging one group over another is not diversity.

        We need to address that mockery and abuse. Do a report like others have done on the experiences of LGBT communities in schools. Provide the evidence and seek support. No pupil should be bullied and you would get support from me to help stop it. But “whataboutery” solves nothing. We need to be in a position to say to pupils this is what other people are, this is what other people believe and this is how other people live and have that free from abuse. We have to be able to have children be able to say what their faith is and what that means to them (of course, we cannot have situations where we have children telling other children that certain things are wrong outside of a faith, only inside it).

        Pretty sure it does – https://www.liberty-human-rights.org.uk/human-rights/what-are-human-rights/human-rights-act/article-2-first-protocol-right-education
        and https://ukhumanrightsblog.com/incorporated-rights/articles-index/protocol-1-article-2/

        I am not demanding all education – just state education.

        But why dont you have the courage of your convictions? Humanists in Scotland and abroad are donating funds to ask the High Court about the opt-out of religious observance. Why don’t you challenge the lack of funds/policy to begin Free Church Schools? If you think your interpretation of the law is correct then make sure you can follow through on that interpretation. Meet with relevant civil servants before you go to court. It was interpretations of equality legislation that allowed humanist weddings without a judicial review. If you think you are correct challenge the Government, rather than moan about things.

      2. Wow – what a revealing and chilling comment! ‘acts that are not diverse’ are to be excluded! Apart from the illogicality of the statement its just yet another way that in the name of diversity, real diversity is excluded.

        AS for Free Church schools – we are already on it! The law at the moment allows that….

    2. Haha – I’m beginning to see why you allow Mr. Mclellan to post here David.

      In recent ties, first that was this brush stroking of all religions unfavourably in the light of denominational schools preforming better, then it was the attempt to make out a school head teacher had some kind of fetish because he set some consequences for children connected with the wearing of school uniform all in the name of his religion of equality.

      Now, it’s that old chestnut about “segregation of children” as if any challenge or even non-deference to the humanist position he favours is likeable to the segregation between whites and black in use of say, a public swimming pool during the civil rights movement in the USA in the 60’s.

      Well, we’ve moved on from that and in a secular run country where equality is enshrined by law religions freedom of expression still exists. And given that the condition agreed upon between state and church was in handing over the education responsibilities to the state there would be religious observance in schools then this is in keeping with these values. If Mr. McLellan advocates the freedom of children to not participate in RO, then the freedom to do so is there with parents choice to opt out. However he must realise that using the terminology of his argument, any parent doing so, is making the choice to “segregate” their child from other children if they do so.

      Also RO as it stand now is a legal requirement only for 6 hours of the year. Does Mr. Mclellan honestly think that exposure to this is such a threat, given that often times in practice it is an anodyne experience and anyone leading doest so at the behest of the headteacher. Is it no the case that anyone leading RO could be of any faith or none?

      Of course this couldn’t be part of a sinister plot to eliminate religion from public life just as Nazis in Germany did with Judaism in the 1930’s could it? Or could it?

      Are you a Nazi Mr McLellan?

    3. Douglas,
      the following spectrum of attitudes is based on empirical observation so you will probably reject it as being ‘unscientific’. I find it useful.

      a. Fundamentalism
      b. Traditionalism
      c. Conservatism
      d. Activism
      c’. Scepticism
      b’. Pseudo-scepticism
      a’. Cynicism

      You might find it helpful to think in terms of ‘attitudes 1-7’ but since you don’t show an aversion to labels perhaps you will bear with me.

      An evangelical might have any of these attitudes towards ‘doctrine’ – just like any other grouping of human beings – but it is as decidedly unsafe to imagine that all evangelicals are fundamentalists as it is to imagine that all atheists are cynics. Sooner or later, it will be exposed that it is not so. Similarly, human attitudes are not rigid so we ought not assume that the committed conservative-evangelical doesn’t critically examine things to see if they are true.

      It might also be worth your consideration to reflect on how easily a foolish cynicism about the existence of God flips over to a fearful fundamentalist acceptance of all the mantras of the New Atheism. It might score debating points to cynically accuse a committed opponent of holding ‘appalling’ fundamentalist doctrines but that dog is inclined to bite the hand that feeds it.

      Yours,
      John/.

  3. Good points.

    Given that legally religion is defined as any religion or lack of religion, the HSS equallly are perfectly entitled to not be discriminated againt their religion an entitled to start their own schools.

    Ministers acting unlawfully? Haha yeah and black people are never racist and women can never be sexist. That’s equality, right? 😉

  4. I would imagine that many children, if given the option, would want to opt out of all sorts of school activities. What the HSS is aiming for is as much to undermine the family as the core unit of society and weaken the authority of parents as they are for allowing an opt out from religious observance. My memory of acts of worship (morning assembly) in the early to mid sixties is that they were so anodyne that few could have taken exception, and that was in a school where the head could give a better sermon than the chaplain.

  5. Mr McLellan,

    In light of your comment: “Parents have an explicit right in the European Convention of Human Rights to bring up their children in the religion or belief of their choice without interference from the state” the following link from the comment by Andy on Quantum 79, why should all children be subject to the belief of the child’s mother? The child in question was more than suggestible to her mother. Has anybody heard of a “tomboy” phase?

    “Here is another critique of balanced bbc reporting of teenage gender issues … http://www.conservativewoman.co.uk/ken-macintosh-transgender-kids-are-cool-if-you-believe-their-crazy-parents-and-the-bbc/

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