Tag Archives: Democracy

Scottish state schools must have prayers! (religious observance). Westminster laws inherited in 1999 by Scottish Parliament still prevail.

ESS Communications Officer, Neil Barber, explains in the Scotsman (14 June) the difference between Religious and Moral Education and religious observance;

RME teacher Isdale Anderson accurately describes the important need for religious education:To remove religious education from schools would be to leave pupils ignorant of the beliefs of millions of the world’s population” (letters 13th June). However, her description of her work as “ teaching religious and moral education (RME) in state non-denominational secondary schools” underscores an ongoing concern.

In addition to RME, so-called “non-denominational” schools are statutorily obliged to have regular Religious Observance (RO) which is often led by evangelising outsiders who might be less concerned than Ms Anderson to “encourage pupils to think for themselves.” RO is quite different from RME and, depending on the ethos of the school and the personal beliefs of the head teacher, may become exactly the “force-feeding” which she rightly condemns.

Let us not blur the distinction between RO and the work done by conscientious RME teachers like Ms Anderson.

The laws that govern religious observance in Scottish schools were determined by the UK Westminster Parliament before devolution and are similar to those that apply in England. They have never been reviewed by the Scottish Parliament in the fifteen years of its existence. Is it not about time that it used the powers that it has?

Edinburgh Secular Society moves for an end to unelected religious representatives

News release – Embargoed until –Monday 14th October

Edinburgh Secular Society (ESS) has lodged a petition with the Scottish Parliament in relation to religious representatives on local authority education committees. The petition calls on the Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to bring forward legislative proposals to repeal Section 124 of the Local Government Act.

This would end the legal obligation on local authorities to appoint three unelected religious representatives to sit on their education committees.

The petition is available to view via the Scottish Parliament’s website:


The National Secular Society, Humanist Society Scotland and University of Edinburgh Humanist Society support the petition.

  • Every one of Scotland’s 32 local authority education committees in Scotland is legally obliged to appoint three religious representatives.
  • In most areas two religious representatives are nominated from each of the Catholic Church and Church of Scotland, with one other being appointed by the local authority.
  • 2011 census results show that almost half of all Scots profess no religious beliefs. This figure is higher among young people. There is no mandate for this privileged influence over our education system.
  • Religious representatives are accountable only to their respective religious organisations and cannot be voted out by the public, yet they have full voting rights on the committees.
  • The Church of Scotland has recognised this, reporting that ‘. . . Church representatives hold the balance of power on 19 local authority committees’.

That religious representatives have a direct influence on the education of our children is an unwelcome throwback to when churches used to run our schools prior to 1872.  ESS recognises the historical role that religious organisations played in the early education system; however changing demographics of our increasingly secular society make the current position untenable. It is profoundly undemocratic and needs to change.

Education committees may choose to draw on the wisdom of many advisory bodies experienced in the education of children, but why are religious leaders directly involved in governing the local education system?  They should be free to give their counsel like any other individual or group but should not have a direct role in governing the education system. Even if they wanted to, groups like humanists, secularists and atheists are prevented from taking up a seat as a religious representative as they do not have a “place of worship” which the legislation requires.

ESS has published the names of all the religious nominees on Scotland’s education committees http://edinburghsecularsociety.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Religious-Reps-Edinburgh-Secular-Society-July-2013.pdf

Our Local Authority Education Committees sometimes have to deal with other public concerns about religion in education, such as Veronica Wikman’s petition[1] to remove religious observance from non-denominational schools in Edinburgh. Such concerns should not be handled by individuals with a vested interest in the status quo. 

In addition, Church of Scotland guidance to its religious representatives on education committees advises them to encourage school Chaplains to introduce faith-based resources to schools for use in the delivery of Curriculum for Excellence.[2]

Colin Emerson, ESS Vice-chair states:

“To afford a particular section of society a privileged position within the decision making process of local government, based solely on their particular and personal religious beliefs, is profoundly and inherently undemocratic, unfair and discriminatory. It strikes against those specific virtues of justice and integrity underpinning our society and which lie at the heart of the Scottish Parliament.”

Patrick Harvie, MSP for Glasgow, comments:

“In a society in which increasing numbers of people don’t practice any religion, it’s high time that we questioned a practice which gives religious hierarchies an influence over every child’s education. I’m particularly concerned at the involvement of people who would promote utterly unscientific notions like creationism; pushing this absurd ideology at children is the very opposite of education.”

City of Edinburgh Councillor Sandy Howat (an elected member on the City of Edinburgh Children and Families Committee) states:

“Unelected, unaccountable and I would suggest untenable? Undemocratic influence over public education is fundamentally at odds with the principles of respect, equality and shared freedoms. All contributions to committee deliberations should be welcomed, yet continued undemocratic privilege of the few over the many is an out-dated tradition we should remove.  As we look to create a fairer Scotland with liberty at its core, we need to ask ourselves what this ‘privilege’ says about our values; it’s time for a new enlightenment.”

Alistair McBay the Scottish spokesperson of the National Secular Society states:

"From the evidence we have of churches leveraging their chaplaincy roles in schools and the religious observance guidelines for the purposes of evangelism, so they also leverage these undemocratic positions for their own self-serving interests. Why else would the Kirk, for example, highlight these roles in its Education Committee work plan and provide training courses, handbooks etc. so as to provide "better trained local authority reps able to be more effective on LA Education Committees". Effective for whose ultimate benefit, exactly?"

Humanist Society Scotland’s education officer, Patrick McGlinchey states:

"Humanist Society Scotland’s vision is of a secular education system where all pupils within a community are schooled together, not divided on the religious beliefs of their parents.

Ensuring that education policy lies with locally elected representatives and not in the hands of religious organisations would be a positive step towards this vision of a system that put the child first." 

Ian Scott, Secretary of University of Edinburgh Humanist Society states:

“Religious (and nonreligious) figures are perfectly at liberty to put forth their views to committees, but citizens in a democracy rightly expect that those actually taking the decisions about how their children are educated are elected in a fair and transparent manner; not dropped in from on high by out-of-touch, often highly socially conservative, religious bodies, given a free pass to impose their dogma on children.”

ESS calls upon The Scottish Parliament to begin legislation to remove this out-dated and unrepresentative practice.

We ask that everyone who values a free, inclusive and secular society sign our petition at:



  • Speakers available for TV/Radio and other interviews.  For further information contact Gary McLelland Chairman on 07813060713 or Colin Emerson Vice-Chairman on 07706837007
  • ESS is a leading secular campaign group in Scotland. We are based in Edinburgh and cover a range of national issues relating to Secularism.  ESS believes in freedom of religion and freedom from religion.
  • ESS is affiliated to the National Secular Society, although views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the NSS



[2] http://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/13295/302_C_and_S_Reps_Handbook_Leaflet6.pdf

Edinburgh Secular Society challenges undemocratic religious representatives

Edinburgh Secular Society Vice-chair Colin Emerson has submitted a petition to The Scottish Parliament to ask it to instruct The Scottish Government to bring forward legislation to remove the legislation which places a requirement on the all 32 local authorities in Scotland to appoint three ‘religious representatives’ to their education committees.

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