PE01487: Religious observance in schools


Petitioner: Mark Gordon and Secular Scotland


Date Lodged: 19 June 2013

Calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to amend the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 by making Religious Observance (RO) in public schools an “Opt-In” activity rather than an “Opt-Out” one.

Petition History:


3 September 2013: The Committee took evidence from Mark Gordon, and Caroline Lynch, Secretary, Secular Scotland. The Committee agreed to write to the Scottish Government, Education Scotland, the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, Interfaith Scotland, a selection of local authorities, the Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland and the Educational Institute of Scotland. Link to Official Report 3 September 2013 (587KB pdf)

12 November 2013: The Committee agreed to write to the Scottish Government. Link to Official Report 12 November 2013 (538KB pdf)

28 January 2014: The Committee agreed to refer the petition, under Rule 15.6.2, to the Education and Culture Committee. Link to Official Report 28 January 2014 (550KB pdf) 

6 May 2014: The Education and Culture Committee agreed to close petition PE1487. The Committee also agreed to write to the Scottish Government on the wider issue of local authorities ensuring parents are aware of their rights to withdraw their child from religious observance in school. Link to Official Report 6 May 2014 (432KB pdf)  

Written Submissions:


  • Are you aware of your legal right to opt your child out of Religious Observance?
  • Are you aware that less than 40% of parents know of this legal right?
  • Are you aware that only around 20% are properly informed by the school of this legal right?
  • Are you aware that this legal right is enshrined in the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 which states that parents must be given sufficient information upon which to base a decision?
  • Are you aware that most parents don’t even get that chance because new legislation from 2012 oddly leaves this information out of the list of items that are mandatory for inclusion in school handbooks?
  • Are you aware that children are, in some cases on a daily basis, forced to attend religious services because it is assumed their parents agree?
  • Do you think it is right that when most Scots have  no religious affiliation at all, the state still imposes Christian prayer upon them unless you opt out?
  • Do you think it is right, if you are a non-Christian believer, that your child is forced to endure Christian religious observance unless you opt out?
  • Do you think it is right that your child could be disadvantaged or considered different if you do exercise your legally protected right to opt out?
  • Do you think it is right that your non-belief or disagreement with the State's preferred religion is made public and your right to privacy breached?
  • Or do you keep quiet because the system currently encourages you not to “rock the boat” or upset a great teacher-parent relationship?
  • Do you think that a system of religious observance where parents opt in and positively choose religious observance of a nature you desire will be fairer and more rewarding for all?




Young children will believe anything you tell them and older children just get demotivated by having to sit through boring lectures by the minister. Not to mention the fairly obvious fact that opt out RO is completely outdated. Teaching about religions is important but give the Christian sales pitch a rest.

Ian Armstrong

22:03 on 19 Jun 2013

I have taught RME-RMPS (secondary) for over ten years. For the first few years, I taught in six different schools in three different authorities. In my experience, RME-RMPS teachers avoid RO involvement like the plague, fearing this might compromise their neutrality. Christmas and Easter services are held on the last day of term when attendance is low anyway but Muslim, Hindu, Atheist, etc pupils do still turn up and would really have to make quite a fuss to get out of going. Ditto staff! I have known several school chaplains (all Christian) and found most to be friendly and fairly sensible. Services are less religious than they used to be (e.g. pupils listening to the school's gospel choir but not being expected to sing along, reference to a moment of "silent reflection" rather than "prayer", etc). The emphasis is invariably on shared values and a shared sense of wonder. Chaplain assemblies are basically 'Thought for the Day' and are, in my experience (which may not be typical), pretty uncontroversial. I have two tentative reservations about this petition. The first is the language and principle of 'opt-out' and 'opt-in.' (Are any of us pleased to see the children of fundamentalists removed from RME classes, PSE sexual health lessons, LGBT talks, PE dancing, etc? Would we be happy for the children of creationists to 'opt out' of -- or opt not to 'opt in' to -- science lessons on evolution?). Secondly, I worry that religious parents might 'opt-out' of non-denominational schools altogether, if they begin to view them as atheistic. Those reservations aside, I can't see how anyone could object to 'an instruction to attend a religious service' being replaced with 'an invitation to attend a religious service.'

Keith Gilmour

20:50 on 19 Jun 2013

Children should be taught about religions in the diversity in a balanced and factual way so they can decide for themselves how they wish to interact with these traditions. It is not the job of the state to promote religious observance of any kind.

Julian Adkins

18:57 on 19 Jun 2013

Beliefs and ideologies should not be enforced on children in any way, shape or form! Let them make up their own minds through their innate curiosity!


0:35 on 19 Jun 2013

I don't think it should be "opt in" either! If you want your child to learn that load of twaddle then teach them it yourself. Schools will still be able to teach good morals etc without the "Christian" label attached. In fact if they were true Christian schools they'd be teaching homophobia, racism, sexism etc.

Andrew C

22:30 on 18 Jun 2013

Religious indoctrination has no place in education. Children should not be frog-marched into assembly and forced to pray to a certain god of a certain religion. I'm employed to teach, not to convert.

Allen Kerr

21:57 on 18 Jun 2013

No one should be forced to pray.


16:54 on 18 Jun 2013

The primary spiritual virtue of science is honesty. Those who claim to know outrageously unlikely facts about the Universe that are not underwritten by science should not be allowed to impose their views on the young by default. They should be challenged to explain, in all honesty, how they can know what science doesn't know. It is dishonest to claim that religious belief is a reliable source of truth about the Universe. It is not. Ask Galileo. We must look to science for that truth and the honesty of science should be the default and parents should be encouraged to think very carefully before opting their children into the dishonesty of religion and its claim to know what cannot be known.

John Wiltshire

17:04 on 15 Jun 2013

I believe children should not be forced into a particular religion and to let themselves decide when they are old enough to make an informed decision.

Magister iratus

16:15 on 15 Jun 2013

I think religious observance should be banned from all schools. That's not going to happen, so as a minimum the pupils should be allowed to opt-in to any religious service. OK, if that's still a bit too strong, at least allow 16 year-olds to opt-out especially as the Scottish Government considers them capable of voting on Scottish "independence".

Ian Cobb

16:17 on 14 Jun 2013

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