News release from National Secular Society
10 June 2016 for immediate release

Government should act on UN Children’s Rights Committee’s call for end to compulsory worship in UK schools

A United Nations committee has urged the UK to repeal laws requiring the provision of ‘broadly Christian’ worship in UK schools. It also called for pupils themselves to be given right of withdrawal from any religious worship held in schools.

The recommendations closely reflect concerns raised by the National Secular Society in a briefing submitted to the UN body leading up to the publication of the report.

In a section on Freedom of thought, conscience and religion, the UN reports states:

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. In Northern Ireland and Scotland, children do not have right to withdraw from collective worship without parental permission.

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 Committee also made powerful recommendations that “meaningful sexual and reproductive health education [should be] part of the mandatory school curriculum for all schools….” And expressed concerns about segregated education in Northern Ireland, also points the NSS raised.

Keith Porteous Wood, National Secular Society executive director, said:

“We’re pleased that the UN Committee has endorsed our assertion that the UK’s laws requiring worship are a breach of young people’s rights. Our 70 year old statutes on collective worship were drawn up before any human rights charters and fail to recognise that pupils have human rights too. I hope the UN’s endorsement of our long-standing concerns about children’s rights on compulsory collective worship and minimal pupil self-opt-out will be a wakeup call to the Government to change our outdated legislation in this area.

“Laws that mandate worship are inimical to religious freedom and go beyond the legitimate function of the state.”

The NSS has been campaigning against compulsory collective worship for most of its 150 year history and worked with peers to put amendments before Parliament in 2011 very similar to those now recommended by the UN. They were rejected at the direction of Michael Gove MP when Secretary of State for Education.

The current limited right of withdrawal from worship for sixth pupils follows an amendment proposed by the NSS in 2006. Our original amendment was in line with the UN recommendation but was watered down to only apply to sixth form pupils in England & Wales.

Read the Committee on the Rights of the Child concluding observations on the fifth periodic report of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland here:

Read the National Secular Society’s briefing to the Committee here:

Our supplementary evidence to the Committee is available here:

For more information please contact:
Keith Porteous Wood
020 8997 8371
07810 224380
ISDN available

About the National Secular Society
The NSS a not-for-profit organisation founded in 1866, funded by its members and by donations to ‘challenge religious privilege’.  We work towards a society in which all citizens, regardless of religious belief, or lack of religious belief, can live together fairly and cohesively. We challenge religious privilege and campaign for a secular democracy with a separation of religion and state, where everyone’s Human Rights are respected equally.