The French Freethinkers (Libre Pensée) and Britain’s National Secular Society have agreed a joint policy proposal on “Religion in Schools”. The policy aims to ensure the complete separation of religion and state in the provision of public education, and makes specific policy recommendations for France and Britain. The complete policy proposal is as follows:
Religion in Schools: Libre Pensée/NSS policy proposal
As freethinkers, we demand the complete separation between Church and State and the abolition of all privileges granted to religious organisations. Nowhere is this more important, and contentious, than in education.
The purpose of schools is to enable children to acquire knowledge and develop skills, and the ability to think critically.
As well as educating pupils, schools mould future citizens so education will be a special concern of the nation state. Schools will tend also to reflect any social and cultural tensions that afflict that society. They therefore provide an opportunity (perhaps the best or even the only opportunity) to address these in a systematic way before harmful attitudes have become too ingrained. But this will only if be possible if the schools reflect the diversity of the community.
In a society already seeing rising tensions over race and religion, children should not be separated on the grounds of their parents’ religion at such a formative time in their lives. Research shows that it is vital that pupils learn about each others’ lives, cultures and the common ground they all have. Familiarity and learning to see people as individuals is a great weapon against prejudice in later life.
That is why we consider:
• All children should be treated equally, regardless of any religion or belief they or their parents have – including of course those having no religion.
• There must be no indoctrination in, confessional instruction in or promotion of any particular religious or non-religious lifestance.
• There must be no organised acts of religious observance, worship, prayers, etc. in which pupils are expected by the school to take part. Where there is worship, no pupil, regardless of age, should be required to take part in it, even if they attend. All pupils should have the right to be withdrawn from any worship. That right should be able to be exercised by the pupils themselves where it can be shown that they have sufficient maturity, understanding and intelligence to make an informed decision.
• It is imperative that creationism, including similar unscientific dogma such as Intelligent Design, does not get the foothold in science classes: no teaching based on dogma!
As society is becoming increasingly secular, we regret the rising of religious influence in our schools.
That is why we campaign in our respective countries for:
In the UK:
o There should be no organised worship.
o Religious Education (RE) lessons should be replaced with civics, ethics and philosophy lessons. They would only give non-proselytising basic information about the broad details of the world’s major religions and non-religious philosophies.
In principle, and in the longer term, no publicly funded education should be under religious control. Until that time:
o Discrimination on grounds of religion or none against either pupils (including on admissions) or staff should be prohibited.
o Attendance at any worship and RE should be voluntary for pupils.
o RE lessons should include only broad details of the world’s major religions and non-religious philosophies.
We seek repeal of all legislation that obstructs these ideals.
In France :
For the respect of our separation law: public funds only for public schools
• For the repeal of the clerical statute of Alsace-Moselle
• For the repeal of Carle law: one public school in each village.
• Against the recognition of the catholic diplomas: only the state should have the prerogative to award diplomas.
• For the repeal of all the anti-secular laws concerning education!