A CITY campaign group is supporting a mother’s petition to force a vote on ending religious assemblies in Edinburgh schools.
The petition by mother-of-one Veronica Wikman, 48, requests that the city council conducts a vote among councillors to remove religious observance (RO) from non-denominational state schools, both primary and secondary.
Today’s launch of the petition, which is supported by the Edinburgh Secular Society (ESS), coincides with the UN World Day of Social Justice.
The ESS believes religious observance creates an “open door for external religious groups to target children and instil their religious beliefs”.
Neil Barber, ESS media officer, said: “Religious education is a balanced, important part of education if taught in a comparative and philosophic way. RO, on the other hand, is imposed as truth, sometimes by evangelising visitors. Compulsory RO makes schoolchildren a captive audience for Christians and others who seek to recruit them into their faith, with no provision made for the choice of non-belief.”
Ms Wikman, who lives in south-west Edinburgh, said RO had nothing to do with education but everything to do with “religious indoctrination”.
“The Church of Scotland has not owned our schools since 1872,” she said. “It should retain no privileged access to the education of my child or any other.
“As a parent, I’m forced to give the Church of Scotland joint custody in exchange for receiving state education for my child. That is outrageous.”
A Church of Scotland spokeswoman said: “This petition’s description of religious observance is based on a complete misunderstanding of 21st-century religious observance in schools.
“The Scottish Government’s guidance, which the Church of Scotland supports, says that RO should be inclusive of all faiths and none, allowing pupils and staff to explore what spiritual development means from them.”
The petition requires 500 signatures by the closing date of May 7 but can be considered with at least 250 signatures at the discretion of the council, although the ESS does not expect this to be the case.
A city council spokeswoman said it would be “inappropriate” to comment on a live petition.
Faith in our nation’s schools
RELIGIOUS observance involves a whole school and can be traditional hymns, bible reading, “thought for the day” addresses or multi-media presentations on a moral or spiritual theme.
Scottish Government guidelines state every school should provide opportunities for religious observance at least six times in a school year. Religious observance is a statutory requirement in schools under the Education (Scotland) Act 1980.