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Humanist parent in High Court challenge to exclusion of humanists from local religious education bodies

A humanist parent in Wales is to challenge Vale of Glamorgan Council at the High Court in Cardiff over its decision to exclude a humanist representative from the local body responsible for overseeing religious education (RE) in the area.

Kathy Riddick, who is also the Coordinator of Wales Humanists, applied to join Vale of Glamorgan’s standing advisory council on RE (SACRE) as the humanist member last year, but was denied membership despite the fact that a number of religious representatives are already members of the SACRE.

Humanists UK, which is a founding member of the Religious Education Council of England and Wales and coordinates humanist membership of SACREs, has joined Ms Riddick as a claimant in the case.

SACREs are the bodies in England and Wales responsible for advising local authorities and schools on matters connected with legally required RE and collective worship. In addition to advising on teaching methods and materials and on the quality of RE teaching in schools, SACREs are also the bodies from which Agreed Syllabus Conferences (ASCs) are formed once every five years. ASCs have the important job of setting the RE syllabus for schools in their area. 

SACREs are by law comprised of representatives of religion or belief groups, teachers, and local politicians. The vast majority of SACREs in England and Wales now include a humanist alongside religious representatives, but many admit humanists only as co-opted members and not as full members entitled to full voting rights. Others - like Vale of Glamorgan - refuse membership to humanists outright.

Ms Riddick and Humanists UK have been given permission to challenge the Vale of Glamorgan’s decision on the grounds that it unlawfully discriminates against humanists and has the effect of relegating non-religious worldviews below religions in a way which fails to comply with human rights law. It contravenes a 2015 High Court decision about the content of the RE curriculum, which said that both had to be treated equally. If the challenge is successful, it is likely to establish that all SACREs in England and Wales must admit humanists as full members alongside representatives of religions, and so  establish more firmly the place of Humanism in RE as a subject.

Kathy Riddick, whose children attend schools in the Vale of Glamorgan, commented, ‘I applied to join Vale of Glamorgan SACRE so that I could contribute to improving RE in my local area and hopefully make it more inclusive. 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. All I am interested in doing is helping to ensure that this is the case, so it is very disappointing that Vale of Glamorgan has decided to exclude me from the SACRE simply because I hold non-religious beliefs.’

Chief Executive of Humanists UK Andrew Copson added, ‘Humanists have been contributing positively to religious education in schools for decades and have always been strong advocates for the importance of the subject. Whilst many SACREs recognise this and benefit greatly from the input of humanist representatives - I was formerly the chair and a full member of Westminster SACRE - others still display an archaic prejudice against those with non-religious beliefs. This is despite the High Court ruling very clearly in 2015 that humanism must feature in RE and despite the fact that the vast majority of young people in both England and Wales are non-religious.

‘The Vale of Glamorgan’s position is clearly discriminatory, so we hope that the court will establish once and for all that SACREs must admit both full religious members and full humanist members alike.’ 

Louise Whitfield of Deighton Pierce Glynn said, ‘I am very pleased for my clients that the court has not only granted permission for this legal challenge to go ahead, but it has also recognised the public importance of this issue and that it is in the public interest that the case is heard.’

Notes

For further comment or information please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Jay Harman on jay@humanism.org.uk or 0207 324 3078.

Read more about SACREs: https://humanism.org.uk/education/sacres-and-ascs/about-standing-advisory-councils-for-re-sacres/

Read the Humanists UK 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 more about Humanists UK’s work on Religious Education: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/school-curriculum/religious-education/

Read the Humanists UK response to the Commission on RE: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017-01-11-FINAL-BHA-submission-to-the-Commission-on-Religious-Education.pdf

Kathy Riddick and Humanists UK are being represented by Louise Whitfield of Deighton Pierce Glynn http://www.dpglaw.co.uk/lawyers/louise-whitfield/ and David Wolfe QC https://www.matrixlaw.co.uk/member/david-wolfe/. 

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

Humanists UK recently changed its name from the British Humanist Association: https://humanism.org.uk/2017/05/22/bha-becomes-humanists-uk/

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