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Non-religious views should be part of curriculum: UK court

Non-religious views should form part of the school curriculum for religious studies in the UK, Britain's High Court has ruled on a plea challenging the changes introduced by the government earlier this year to include faiths like Hinduism, Islam and Sikhism.

PTI| Updated: Nov 25, 2015, 21:24 PM IST

London: Non-religious views should form part of the school curriculum for religious studies in the UK, Britain's High Court has ruled on a plea challenging the changes introduced by the government earlier this year to include faiths like Hinduism, Islam and Sikhism.

Three families had taken the Department of Education, headed by Nicky Morgan, to court over what they said was a "skewed" approach to religious studies for a new course announced in February.

Justice Warby ruled that while "it is not of itself unlawful to permit an RS GCSE to be created which is wholly devoted to the study of religion" but the February announcement had included the "assertion" that the new course will fulfil the entirety of the state's religious education duties and schools would interpret this to mean non-religious views need not be included in teaching.

"The assertion thus represents a breach of the duty to take care that information or knowledge included in the curriculum is conveyed in a pluralistic manner... And as a result, [the education secretary] has made an error of law in her interpretation of the education statutes," the judge said.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan's changes had sparked complaints from 28 religious leaders, including the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Williams, who urged the government to rethink its decision to prioritise religious beliefs in particular those associated with - Buddhism, Christianity, Catholic Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism.

The families who went to court were backed by the British Humanist Association.

"I completely recognise the importance of children learning about the different religions, especially in our increasingly diverse society," said Kate Bielby, one of the three parents who led the action.

"What I object to is the lack of parity between religious beliefs and non-religious world views in the school curriculum, which in the eyes of children may well lead to the belief that religion, in whatever form, has a monopoly on truth and on morality."

Lawyers representing the parents argued that under the European convention on human rights and corresponding case law, the state is obliged to treat different religions and beliefs on an equal footing and that religions should not be elevated above non-religious world views in the school curriculum.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "We will carefully consider the judgement before deciding on our next steps."

Unless the judgement is successfully challenged by the Department for Education, schools across Britain will have to ensure non-religious content is covered at GCSE from 2016 when the new curriculum is being introduced.