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22 March 2012

Collective worship Part II

Collective worship Part II

Last month's PQ article from Wales highlighted an attack on collective worship in schools in Wales by the British Humanist Society. The BHA had submitted a petition to the National Assembly for Wales (NAW) calling for collective worship to be abolished, and this has been open for signatures on the NAW website since September. At the time of writing, they have received 274 names, with 77 of those coming from those living outside Wales.

The Alliance in Wales submitted a counter-petition to the National Assembly which was accepted and which became open for signatures on 2 March. In less than three weeks it has gained more than 2,000 signatures – the third highest number since their petitions system began in 2008. It reads:

We, the undersigned, call upon the National Assembly for Wales to urge the Welsh Government to protect collective worship as a legal requirement for schools in Wales.

Collective worship is currently required by law in every school in Wales and -

  • provides opportunities for children and young people to explore spirituality and to reflect on life issues
  • promotes the corporate wellbeing of schools, individual flourishing and, through the participation of visiting speakers from the local community, social cohesion
  • reinforces positive attitudes
  • gives children and young people an awareness and understanding of wider world views
  • improves religious literacy

As suspected, the petition has had appeal from far wider than just the Christian community and there has been strong support from other faith groups in Wales such as the Muslim, Hindu and Baha'i communities. It has also shown the Church's strength as a social grassroots movement, with leaders and lay people alike forwarding the petition on to their various networks, thus demonstrating the Church's reach into communities.

In debates on the topic, some people have said that they believe in a separation of church and state, and therefore disagree with collective worship. However, this is not an issue of church and state, but rather a shifting towards a greater acknowledgement of the importance of spirituality in the different spheres of public life. We could argue for collective worship that is "wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian nature" because of our Christian heritage, but we can also argue for it because of the growing realisation that secularism doesn't have all the answers and that we need to give space for the spiritual in our education system. The inclusion of 'Christian' simply reflects the current religious make-up of Welsh society.

Care is another sector that has seen a growing acceptance of spirituality and move away from secularism. The Royal College of Nursing conducted a survey of their members in 2010 in which they found that spirituality was overwhelmingly considered to be an essential part of care. The Welsh government, also in 2010, produced the document Standards for Spiritual Care Services in the NHS in Wales while a Welsh Spirituality in Mental Health Special Interest Group was also established around the same time.

The pro-collective worship petition has, at time of writing, received more than seven times the amount of signatures as the 'anti' BHA one, a ratio which rises to 10:1 if you restrict the petition to only those living in Wales (i.e. not counting those living outside of Wales). This is important to note because the BHA's argument for abolishing collective worship is based partly on their claim that it is "extremely unpopular". We live in a democracy where people have a right to free speech but the BHA and the National Secular Society do not have overwhelming support for their campaigns and this needs to be pointed out to policymakers so that their voice is not given undue attention and consideration.

The petition will be open until 24 April and it will then be considered by the Petitions Committee when it next meets on 1 May.

If you haven't signed it yet but would like to, please click on the following link and find our petition on the list: www.assemblywales.org/gethome/e-petitions/sign-petition.htm