Exclusive: Humanists to argue in court for place on RE councils

19th July 2017 at 16:37
re, religious education, schools, humanists, sacre, high court, case, discrimination
They say that excluding humanists from RE councils is discriminatory, and 'an archaic prejudice'

A parent is taking her local authority to court over its decision to exclude a humanist representative from the local body responsible for overseeing religious education in the area.

If she succeeds in her challenge, which is being backed by Humanists UK, it is likely that all similar bodies in England and Wales will be obliged to accept humanists alongside religious representatives.

Kathy Riddick applied to join the Vale of Glamorgan’s standing advisory council on RE (Sacre) as a humanist member, but was refused.

She is therefore challenging the Sacre’s decision at the High Court in Cardiff.

'Respect and mutual understanding'

Ms Riddick said: “RE is one of the most important subjects that young people study. But, if it is to promote respect and mutual understanding in the way that it ought to, it must include both a wide range of religions and humanism.”

Humanists UK, which coordinates humanist membership of Sacres, is claiming that the Vale of Glamorgan’s decision unlawfully discriminates against humanists, relegating the nonreligious to a status below the religious.

Humanists UK also believes that the decision contradicts a 2015 High Court ruling, which states that the government had made an “error of law”, in leaving nonreligious worldviews, such as humanism, out of RE GCSE.

'Archaic prejudice'

Andrew Copson, chief executive of Humanists UK, and the former chairman of Westminster Sacre, said: “Humanists have been contributing positively to religious education in schools for decades, and have always been strong advocates for the importance of the subject.

“While many Sacres recognise this, others still display an archaic prejudice against those with nonreligious beliefs.”

A Vale of Glamorgan Council spokesperson said: “The council would not be defending its position if it did not have confidence in the decision-making process that led to this. This case is some way off a substantive hearing, and it would be inappropriate to express any further view at this stage.”

Paul Smalley, chair of the National Association of Sacres, said that membership of Sacres should reflect broadly the proportionate strength of that denomination or religion in the area.

Therefore, he said: "It would seem that in deciding whether to appoint a humanist representative to an authority must satisfy itself that humanism is an 'other religion', that it is part of the makeup of the principal religious traditions in the area, that humanist representation would reflect the strength of humanism in the area, and that the person has authority to represent that tradition."

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