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High Court ruling on Religious Education: BHA responds to ‘misleading’ and unfair criticism by Government

The British Humanist Association (BHA) has written to Secretary of State for Education Nicky Morgan with an urgent request for an explanation of a Government attack on its work.

Last month, the BHA circulated guidance produced by legal experts on the recent High Court ruling on Religious Education (RE). This was in response to requests from teachers and others who wanted to know what changes in practice the law required. The Department for Education (DfE) has now made a response to that guidance which has been quoted by some RE organisations and runs the risk of spreading unlawful teaching practice.

The BHA guidance sought to explain the implications of a ruling from last year. In that case, the High Court ruled against the DfE and in favour of three humanist parents and their children who challenged the Government’s relegation of non-religious worldviews in the new subject content for GCSE Religious Studies. The Court stated that religions and non-religious worldviews such as Humanism must be afforded equal respect in the RE curriculum. The guidance circulated to schools and other relevant bodies by the BHA last month explained the changes that this entails for existing and future RE syllabuses with reference to the case law.

In spite of the fact that the guidance was produced by legal experts, including the lawyers who won the case against the DfE, the DfE has stated both that ‘the judgment should not be taken as having any broader impact on any religious education curriculum’ (in spite of it plainly have such an impact) and that ‘it is not for the BHA to issue legal guidance to schools’ (in spite of the BHA being an organisation with a legal Object to promote education about Humanism and within its rights to do so by the publication of guidance).

The DfE in December produced its own interpretation of the High Court ruling as guidance for schools which led to the BHA stating that Government ‘has plainly not understood either the basis of the judgment or its implications’. The DfE stood by its guidance, which has led to the BHA publishing a commentary on it setting out ‘the ways in which it is likely to mislead schools’. 

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson said, ‘We have asked the Government three simple questions. On what grounds is it saying that it is not for us to publish guidance on this matter? How is the guidance inaccurate? And how can it possibly have concluded that the judgement does not have a broader impact on the RE curriculum? Last year’s High Court judgement was clear that in order for RE to meet the legal need for neutrality, impartiality, and pluralism, non-religious worldviews must be afforded equal respect to religions in the curriculum. In declaring otherwise, the Government risks encouraging schools and others to act unlawfully, and schools and others responsible for RE who rely on the DfE perspective in this matter are relying on the same perspective that led to the DfE being defeated in court last year.’


Notes

For further comment or information please contact BHA Education Campaigner Jay Harman on 020 7324 3078 or jay@humanism.org.uk.

Read the BHA’s letter to Nicky Morgan: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016-05-27-FINAL-Letter-to-Nicky-Morgan-guidance-on-RS-GCSE.pdf

Read the guidance circulated by the BHA last month: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016-04-28-FINAL-High-Court-ruling-on-Religious-Ed

Read the DfE’s response to the legal guidance, published as part of a joint statement from NASACRE and AREIAC: http://www.nasacre.org.uk/file/nasacre/1-290-nasacreareiacresponsetodrsatvinderjussadviceupdated.pdf

Read the Government’s own guidance from December 2015: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/488477/RS_guidance.pdf    

Read the full High Court judgement: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/R-Fox-v-SSfE-2015-EWHC-3404-Admin-251115.pdf

Read the BHA previous news item ‘BHA responds to new Government guidance on Religious Studies GCSE’: https://humanism.org.uk/2015/12/29/44457/

Read the BHA’s news item ‘Judge rules Government broke the law in excluding Humanism from school curriculum’: https://humanism.org.uk/2015/11/25/judge-rules-government-broke-the-law-in-excluding-humanism-from-school-curriculum/

Read the BHA’s briefing on why Humanism is now normally included in Religious Education syllabuses: http://humanismforschools.org.uk/guidance/why-humanism-is-included-in-religious-education-re/  

Read more about the BHA’s work on RE: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/school-curriculum/religious-education/

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

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