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23 February 2012

Collective worship in Welsh schools

Collective worship in Welsh schools

Welsh schools are currently required by law to hold acts of collective worship which, although allowing for other faiths to be represented, are to be "broadly Christian", according to government guidelines.

Last September, the British Humanist Association (BHA) put up a petition on the National Assembly for Wales' website, calling for collective worship to be abolished. They claimed that it was "extremely unpopular" and that parents, teachers and children did not want it. As of 22 February, only 233 people had signed it, with over 25 per cent of those coming from England.

Although tit-for-tat exchanges with the BHA and the National Secular Society (NSS) can be counter-productive, there are times when we need to have a "containment strategy" in place to keep their secularist vision in check. Such a strategy was adopted by America during the Cold War with the Soviet Union and communism being seen as an expansionist ideology that needed to be contained. This led to a number of "proxy wars" being fought throughout Africa and Latin America with America and the USSR arming different sides of the same conflict. In a similar vein, we need to recognise that the BHA and NSS will not stop at abolishing school assemblies but will continue until every trace of religion is removed from public life in the UK.

In response to this BHA petition, the Alliance in Wales is currently working on a counter petition to submit shortly to the NAW Petitions Committee. This will call for the continuation of collective worship as a legal requirement for Welsh schools and, we believe, will easily gather more than the 233 signatories amassed by the BHA. Our initiative stems from a conviction that the current collective worship arrangements are for the common good, being of benefit not only to Christians but also Wales' non-Christian faith groups and many others as well.

The Alliance canvassed the opinions of 200 of its members in Wales recently on the subject and found Christians to be overwhelmingly in favour of keeping the present arrangements, with only 10 per cent either against or not sure. Among the 10 per cent, the two main reasons given were a) that we shouldn't impose our Christian faith on others and b) that assemblies are often led by non-Christians and present a watered-down message of little use.

Although many Christians are already persuaded of the benefits of collective worship, it is perhaps helpful to look at the issue from a human rights angle in order to find common ground with the remaining 10 per cent. From this perspective, we currently have our right to manifest our Christian faith in school, through religious assemblies and prayer, protected by law. If this were to be removed from us and with legislation being required in order for something better to be put in its place, we would have no guarantee that this would happen in the present political climate. We could easily end up with a situation where our faith has been further marginalised in society.

To be continued….