Britain must stop forcing children to attend Christian school assemblies because it undermines their human rights, a United Nations committee has said in a controversial new report.
The authors called on ministers to repeal a law demanding a daily act of Christian worship at schools because it may contradict a child’s “freedom of thought, conscience and religion”. The report was produced by an 18-person group of “independent experts” of “high moral character” including representatives from Bahrain, Russia and Egypt.
Critics dubbed the demand “ludicrous” and said the government should responded by “respectfully” putting the report “in the bin”.
It was just one of 150 recommendations about where Britain could be contravening the UN Charter on the Rights of the Child.
The report also called on the government to protect children from being smacked by parents as it urged a tougher line on domestic abuse.
A section of the report read: “The Committee is concerned that pupils are required by law to take part in a daily religious worship which is ‘wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character’ in publicly funded schools in England and Wales, and that children do not have the right to withdraw from such worship without parental permission before entering the sixth form.”
It added: “The Committee recommends that the State party repeal legal provisions for compulsory attendance at collective worship in publicly funded schools and ensure that children can independently exercise the right to withdraw from religious worship at school.”
The demand provoked a backlash from Tory MPs. David Burrowes, the Enfield Southgate MP who led a Tory rebellion over changes to Sunday trading laws, said it was “ludicrous and mad”.
“The collective act of worship is not an indoctrination exercise. It is recognising and respecting the Christian heritage of the country and giving people an opportunity to reflect before the beginning of the day,” he told The Telegraph.
“The UN should spend more time doing its main job of preventing war and genocide rather than poking its nose in other countries’ classrooms. We can respectfully put those kind of reports in the bin where they belong.”
Pavan Dhaliwal, a director at the British Humanist Association, said: “The UK state fails its young people in far too many ways today. Almost uniquely among economically developed countries, it segregates them in schools along religious lines.
She added: “We are pleased to see the UN agree with us that UK law needs to change.” source
- The source document proving this story can be found on the UN Human Rights site as a downloadable Word document.