Tag Archives: Petition

Colin Emerson & Norman Bonney present the ESS petition to The Scottish Parliament

Response to Church of Scotland news release

For immediate release | Thursday 31st October 2013 | Contact details at bottom.

Response on behalf of Edinburgh Secular Society.  Edinburgh Secular Society is currently supporting a petition in Edinburgh to remove religious observance in the City’s schools.

ESS is affiliated to the National Secular Society, although views expressed are that of ESS alone.

Edinburgh Secular Society believe that education should not be used as a vehicle for evangelisation by religious lobby groups.  ESS works for the complete removal of religious observance, and does not support a recent petition to The Scottish Parliament to change the requirement for prayers to ‘opt-in’ from the current ‘opt-out’.

We believe that this is treating the symptoms and not the cause, and that the time (if there ever was one) for compulsory religious worship must end.

You can view out original response to the ‘Opt-in/Opt-out’ petition here: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/S4_PublicPetitionsCommittee/General%20Documents/PE1487_P_Edinburgh_Secular_Society_11.10.13.pdf

In a report authored, among others, by Rev Ewan Aitken (Secretary, Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council) in 2005, it was admitted that:

“It seems that until a model of RO for non-denominational schools is developed that provides an understanding of non-religious ‘spiritual development’ as well as shared classroom practices to enact this model, an inevitable result is an RO of the ‘lowest common denominator’ that gravitates to moral exhortation and communal singing rather than spiritual development……”

The report went on to say:

“When one of the primary school pupils, when asked whether his RO teacher helped him understand what it is to be a spiritual person gave the honest answer: ‘I don’t know what spiritual means,’ there seems to be a challenge issued to educators that goes unmet by practices such as schools organising religious retreats for pupils, or having specialists come into the school to give sessions on prayer, mediation or contemplation.”[1]

Responding to the Church of Scotland’s latest remarks, Gary McLelland, Chair of Edinburgh Secular Society said:

“The vague and un-specified notion of spiritual development advanced by the Kirk is obviously a euphemism for religious belief.  The Church of Scotland should be embarrassed by its latest attempt to shoehorn compulsory religious belief into Scottish schools.The idea that religion is a prerequisite to inter-personal development is an insult to those Scots who wish to live a good life without reference to religion.”

McLelland continued: “It’s time to end, not amend, compulsory worship in Scottish schools.”

[1] http://eprints.gla.ac.uk/68010/

  • ESS can provide photos, speakers and comments.  Please contact Gary McLelland, Chair of the Society at 07813060713.
  • ESS is a leading secular campaign group, based in Edinburgh we cover issues across Scotland.
  • ESS is affiliated to NSS, although views expressed are that of ESS alone.

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.

Read More →

Media Officer, Neil Barber’s letter is published in the Scotsman


Secular petition

Published on 05/06/2013 00:00

On Monday Edinburgh City Council’s petition committee heard a petition from Veronica Wikman to remove religious observance from non-denominational schools.

The author of the counter petition to retain it did not show up and was represented by a Church of Scotland minister. The meeting was chaired with grace and clarity by Councillor Maggie Chapman and Ms Wikman was supported by representatives of both Edinburgh Secular Society and The National Secular Society. The petition was moved to the next stage which is to be heard by the education committee later in the year

We applaud city council for its relatively young petitions procedure which makes local democracy and accountability ever more accessible to Edinburgh citizens.

Neil Barber

Edinburgh Secular Society

Saughtonhall Drive


View online here.

Edinburgh Evening News runs this story about the ESS appearance before City of Edinburgh Council’s Petition Committee


Let us pay: £10m bill to axe religion in schools

A referendum costing millions would be required to decide future of religious assemblies in city schools. Picture: David Jones/PAA referendum costing millions would be required to decide future of religious assemblies in city schools. Picture: David Jones/PA

Published on 04/06/2013 12:00


A MOVE to scrap religious assemblies in Edinburgh’s schools would land the city with a £10 million bill, councillors have been warned.


It has emerged that if the council wants to end the practice, the 1980 Education Act requires it to hold a city-wide referendum to get the backing of voters.

And as the last Edinburgh referendum – on congestion charging in 2005 – cost £9 million, officials have calculated this would cost at least ten per cent more.

The potential bill was revealed as rival petitions for and against religious observance were debated by the city council’s petitions committee.

Committee convener Maggie Chapman said: “Religious observance is enshrined in the Education Act and a referendum is the only way it can be removed. I don’t think there is much appetite for that given it will cost millions of pounds when we are considering so many cuts.”

Secularist campaigners say they are happy for schools to provide religious education, which they say teaches “about belief”, but not religious observance, which teaches “to believe”. But their petition to the council sparked a rival one, claiming that Christianity was being 

Tory councillor Jeremy Balfour said holding a referendum on the issue would not be a good use of taxpayers’ money at a time of austerity. He said: “No constituent has ever contacted me about this. I don’t think it is a pressing issue for the people of Edinburgh.

“I think the majority of people think it’s good to have some kind of religious observance in schools.”

Liberal Democrat group leader Paul Edie added: “I’m not sure this is what we would want to spend £10m on at the moment.”

But he said: “There is a significant opinion against religious observance in schools and we have to recognise that. There must be a better way of determining this than a hugely expensive referendum.”

Gary McLelland, chairman of the Edinburgh Secular Society, said the provision for a referendum on abolishing religious observance had also been part of the 1872 Education Act, which “suggests there was some dubiety about the practice even then”.

He said: “We don’t know the full costs of any referendum. With modern technology it’s possible it could be done much cheaper. Schools are not just for parents, teachers and pupils, they are social establishments paid for by the residents of Edinburgh and they are entitled to a say in whether religious practices are allowed.”

Veronica Wikman, who brought the petition calling for an end to religious observance, suggested: “The referendum need not cost so much if you combined it with another 

The issue will now go to the education committee for 


View online here.