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Leave religious observance at home

The Scottish Secular Society's petition to the Scottish Parliament to change religious observance in state schools from an "opt-out" to an "opt-in" activity gives an opportunity for the Scottish Parliament and government to review the laws inherited from the UK Parliament in 1999. But so far Parliament has conspicuously failed to do this in any fair and in-depth way.

The evidence presented to the Public Petitions Committee by petitioners and organisations suggests a need for a fundamental shake-up. In this evidence, the Scottish Parent Teacher Council comes out against the legal requirement to continue religious observance in all schools. The Scottish Council of Jewish Communities points out that despite successive Scottish government guidance documents promoting inclusive forms of religious observance in schools, this has not been achieved. Many parents and children - atheist, humanist or otherwise - who have approached secular societies share this experience of alienation. Even the Church of Scotland admits that some existing practices are not defensible.

The Church of Scotland calls for "religious observance" to be renamed "time for reflection", yet this also requires a change of the law. The government suggests that Parliament's own "time for reflection" is a good model, but this usually involves a religious speaker addressing a sparsely filled chamber with no active MSP involvement - hardly a good model for schools.

Religion outside school is diverse and divisive. To demand that schools produce unifying religious rituals is asking the impossible. Leave religious observance to home, the church, the temple and the mosque.

Norman Bonney, Honorary president, Edinburgh Secular Society

See pages 16-18.

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