Judge: exclusion of humanism from religious studies is wrong

Judge: exclusion of humanism from religious studies is wrong

In a landmark ruling today, High Court judge Mr Justice Warby, above, found that the British Government was wrong to exclude humanism from the GCSE RS subject curriculum.

The exclusion, according to this report, flew in the face of the Government’s own consultation results, and went against the opinion of RE subject experts and religious leaders.

Judge Warby ruled in favour of  three humanist parents and their children who challenged the Government’s rejection of non-religious worldviews in the latest subject content for GCSE Religious Studies.

The families claimed that Education Secretary Nicky Morgan had “skewed” the teaching of religion in schools by leaving out “non-religious world views” from the syllabus.

The families, supported by the British Humanist Association, argued there was widespread concern about:

The failure [by Mrs Morgan] to comply with her duty of neutrality and impartiality as between religious and other beliefs.

In his decision, the judge stated that the Government had made an “error of law” that amounted to:

A breach of the duty to take care that information or knowledge included in the curriculum is conveyed in a pluralistic manner.

While the Government will not be immediately compelled to change the GSCE, religious education syllabuses around the country will now have to put non-religious world views such as humanism on an equal footing, and pupils taking a GCSE will also have to learn about non-religious belief systems.

The judge said:

In carrying out its educational functions the state owes parents a positive duty to respect their religious and philosophical convictions … the state has a duty to take care that information or knowledge included in the curriculum is conveyed in a pluralistic manner … the state must accord equal respect to different religious convictions, and to non-religious beliefs; it is not entitled to discriminate between religions and beliefs on a qualitative basis; its duties must be performed from a standpoint of neutrality and impartiality as regards the quality and validity of parents’ convictions.

The Department for Education will now have to take action in response to the judgement against it. Further meetings will now take place between the parties to decide what steps must now be taken to ensure non-religious world views such as humanism are included.

Kate Bielby, one of the parents acting as a claimant in the case, commented:

My daughter and I are delighted by today’s decision and the clear statement that it makes in support of equality of religion and belief. It is long past time that the beliefs of the non-religious were treated on an equal footing with religions in the school curriculum.

I am confident that whatever changes are introduced on the back of this judgement, Religious Studies will be a fairer, more inclusive subject, benefitting all children whatever their religious or non-religious background.

The British Humanist Association (BHA) has welcomed the landmark decision, and its Chief Executive Andrew Copson said:

We have made the case for many decades that the school curriculum on religions should include major non-religious worldviews such as humanism. It is great news that the Court has now said the law is with us.

This is a stunning victory for the three humanist families who stood up to the Government on this issue. It is also a victory for the vast majority of people who believe in the importance of a religious education curriculum that is inclusive, balanced, and pluralistic, and which contributes to mutual understanding between people of all religions and none.

We look forward to working with the Government to ensure that the changes required by the judgement are implemented and hope they will use this as an opportunity to improve the GCSE for the benefit of all children. Continuing to exclude the views of a huge number of Britons, in the face of majority public opinion and all expert advice, would only be to the detriment of education in this country and a shameful path to follow.

Hat tip: BarrieJohn

25 responses to “Judge: exclusion of humanism from religious studies is wrong”

  1. Broga says:

    It’s a shame Mr Justice Warby can’t give a ruling on the way the BBC excludes secular opinion and drenches us, particularly on Sundays, with religion.

    Congratulations and thanks to the parents who fought for this.

  2. L.Long says:

    It wont be that big a deal, as when studying religions one soon realizes that they are equally BS, and the question is soon raised…where do we get our morals from, and that leads to humanism and thinking.

  3. Rob Andrews says:

    In any study of god or gods-there have been many of them–it’s only right to include the idea that there are zero god(s). I mean to have a full undersatnding of the subject matter.

    Humanism and secularism are just two ideas that stand in contrast to religious ones that explain the meaning of the universe.

    “I know your god isn’t real the same way you know mine isn’t real”.Mark Twain.

  4. Stephen Mynett says:

    Well, that is the majority of the pages of the Daily Mail filled for the rest of the week: Aggressive secularists continuing the persecution of Christians etc etc etc blah blah blah ad infinitum.

  5. John Humpf says:

    Hearty Congrats and three cheers for Kate Bielby et al and Mr Justice Warby..

    Hip Hip Hooray
    Hip Hip Hooray
    Hip Hip Hooray

    Good job … well done

  6. AgentCormac says:

    Really bad wig, fantastic result. If you aren’t already a card-carrying member of the BHA I would urge you to become one. They do some genuinely fantastic work on behalf of people like ourselves and deserve as much of our support as we can give them. Do it, people!

  7. Lucy1 says:

    As do the National Secular Society

  8. Angela_K says:

    Nicky Morgan favouring religion, no surprise there her being a christian.

  9. AgentCormac says:


  10. barriejohn says:

    Broga: My immediate reaction was, “Who’s taking the BBC to court over Thought for the Day then?”

  11. barriejohn says:

    S. Mynett: You don’t know how right you are! Letter from this morning’s Daily Mail:

    “Is Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby actually a believer at all? His comments make you wonder whether he actually knows and understands the Bible.

    Adam and Eve were perfect human beings when created by God. It was only through their wilful disobedience of eating the forbidden fruit after being tempted by Satan that God was prompted to give them their own path in life (making them mere mortals) rather than follow His command for the way they should live their lives.

    Jehovah doesn’t bring injustice, cruelty and destruction into the world He so lovingly created; it’s all down to the Devil, and the Archbishop should be well aware of that. How can he doubt his God? How can he counsel anyone else who has doubts when his own belief is so shallow?”

    Mr M. MacDONALD, Birmingham.

    Reproduced by the Letters Editor without any hint of irony whatsoever. These are the people to whom they quite shamelessly pander.

  12. Vanity Unfair says:

    And all over the country students groan at the thought of having to learn another set of facts for the exams.
    What do I mean by “another”?

  13. 1859 says:

    Well done all ye humanists!
    Not sure it will make RS more attractive though – when I was at school RS was probably the most universally LOATHED subject on the timetable and classes would regularly be half empty. The only lively discussion we ever had was when a girl brought in a crucifix wrapped in a condom which she insisted had been used the night before.

  14. Gerald says:

    Sorry for OT but this article got me off to a really bad start today…. It’s another case of the pious standing in the way of reform and inflicting totally unnecessary emotional and financial stress on people. And it is gruesome and a menace to public health too. Another example of theocratic bullying and enforcement of primitive dogmatic lunacy.

    Again sorry for OT

  15. Brummie says:

    Taught well, this could cause a healthy avalanche of atheism and humanism in our youngsters. Bring it on!

  16. Laura Roberts says:

    Once in awhile the world becomes perceptibly better. I’ve got some prosecco chilling that will go nicely with this victory. I echo Broga’s sentiments: many thanks to the parents who fought for this!

  17. Jobrag says:

    The trouble with an atheist thought for the day is that there are only a few ways to say “sorry it’s all pretend” whereas theologists will argue till the cows come home how many angels can dance on a pin head.

  18. Rob Andrews says:

    This website has a lot of good videos on atheism and secularism. But they’re too long for ‘a thought for a day’ format.

    Atheist TV

  19. John Humpf says:

    In my school in the late 60’s / early 70’s, one of the old style Grammar Schools,we had a full time English Teacher who was actually an ordained CoE vicar.He taught English and RE but it was often difficult to know whether this was an English lesson or an RE lesson. Made no difference to him… he just prosyletised and ranted on with red face and blood vessels bulging under his dog collar, about Christianity (not the rcc version) no matter what. No mention of any other religion except for a few venomous snipes at the rcc and jews.Then after he had left the school, suspiciously suddenly, we needed a replacement so the school hired on a part time basis, a local vicar, a wet fish social cripple and general all round inadequate who rolled up daily on a red Raleigh bicycle. He was useless and contradicted the previous incumbents lessons so comprehensively and so frequently it was hard to understand which version was correct. I consider myself to be lucky because exposure to two dog collared theologians ostensibly of the same persuasion but one a literalist and the other one who blurted out out wet unconvincing interpretations undermined my already skeptical views. Even more so because I was sent to a Sunday school run by the part time teacher. It was easy to catch him out because he often drew different interpretations from the same biblical event. Aged 13 I concluded this was all tosh and never went to Sunday school again, by now a resolute disbeliever. We had some catholic kids in the school but they were mysteriously allowed to skip the morning assembly (aka CoE Service). This was often a source of dissent by those of us who asked to skip assembly on the grounds of disbelief. This was refused of course further hardening my bullshit deflector shields. The head teacher by the way, a strikingly good looking steely man who ruled the whole school through the strength of his character dignity and deportment took a few of us sixth formers for a weekly general discussion session. He confided to us few that his belief in god had been fully and comprehensively erased at the hands of the Japanese in a WW2 PoW camp from where he was one of only a few survivors. When I look back I recognise that this brave and honest man was quietly and subtly guiding us away from the godly direction he was bound by the authorities to run the school.

  20. Broga says:

    @barriejohn: That letter in the Mail must be a send-up. Nobody could be so bonkers. But wait, it’s from a Christian so he is probably serious.

    I think Justin Welby is as atheist as I am and so are many other clergy. But their careers depend on embracing the superstition.

  21. Stephen Mynett says:

    Broga, it seems to be that every time you think theists cannot say anything more ridiculous one will prove you wrong.

    I agree about the amount of atheists in the church, a look at The Clergy Project website, set up to help unbelieving church officials can be quite interesting:

    I had an interesting exchange with a former American pastor a year or so back, he kept mentioning TCP in a good blog piece. I mailed to say that I had to think twice when first seeing TCP as being from the UK it first made me think of a well known anti-septic but added that both TCPs did a similar job.

  22. Cali Ron says:

    A blow for freedom from religion. There is hope for humankind.

  23. […] month the High Court ruled in favour of three families and the British Humanist Association, who had challenged the exclusion of non-religious worldviews in the syllabus of the government’s […]