English Schools Must Teach Atheism In Religion Lessons, Court Rules

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Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Atheism must be taught as part of religious education lessons in British schools, the High Court has ruled.

In a victory for three families supported by the British Humanist Association (BHA), the High Court ruled that Education Secretary Nicky Morgan had acted unlawfully in omitting non-religious views from religion lessons.

The BHA had accused the Education Secretary of adopting a “skewed” approach to the religion syllabus taught in Britain’s state schools and failing to reflect the “diverse” nature of modern Britain.

The government defended its position by saying that students should focus only on studying religious belief given the nature of the subject.

However, High Court judge Mr Justice Warby ruled there had been “a breach of the duty to take care that information or knowledge included in the curriculum is conveyed in a pluralistic manner”.

Currently, 15 to 16 year olds who study religious education look at a variety of religions including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Sikhism, Buddhism and Hinduism. The religions are taught in a comparative manner, and the subject is not compulsory.

Representing the families, David Wolfe QC claimed there was concern about “the Secretary of State’s failure to comply with her duty of neutrality and impartiality as between religious and other beliefs.”

The Daily Mail reports that the judge ruled in their favour, saying: “It is not of itself unlawful to permit an RE GCSE to be created which is wholly devoted to the study of religion.”

He made clear, however, that his ruling only applied to state schools without a religious character. Faith schools in the UK are subject to different criteria.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “Our new RE GCSE ensures pupils understand the diversity of religious beliefs in Great Britain through the study of more than one religion, an important part of our drive to tackle segregation and ensure pupils are properly prepared for life in modern Britain.

“It is also designed to ensure pupils develop knowledge and understanding of both religious and non-religious beliefs.

“Today’s judgement does not challenge the content or structure of that new GCSE and the judge has been clear it is in no way unlawful.

“His decision will also not affect the current teaching of the RS GCSE in classrooms. We will carefully consider the judgement before deciding on our next steps.”

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