Judge rejects challenge to multi-faith teaching

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The Independent Online
A LEGAL challenge to 'multi-faith' worship and teaching in schools was rejected by the High Court yesterday.

In what was seen as a test case, two Christian mothers claimed that school assemblies and lessons designed to enable pupils of different religions to take part were a breach of the Education Reform Act 1988, which says most acts of collective worship must be 'wholly or mainly of a Christian character which reflects the broad traditions of Christian belief'.

Kim Ruscoe and Christine Dando, both of Manchester, complained that multi-faith assemblies at the city's Crowcroft Park Primary School did not fit this requirement because they did not include sufficient specifically Christian elements. Unless a divine being or power was identified, the object of worship might as well be 'the man in the moon'.

They also argued that the city's 'integrated curriculum', under which multi-faith religious education was combined with secular subjects, was unlawful because if parents exercised their right to withdraw children from the religious aspects the children would be deprived of secular education.

The mothers said the Secretary of State for Education acted unreasonably in refusing to take up their complaints last June, and sought leave for a judicial review.

But Mr Justice McCullough said there were no grounds for saying the minister acted unreasonably. 'In my judgment, he was unarguably right . . . that the Act permitted some non-Christian elements in collective worship so long as this did not deprive it of its broadly Christian character, and that this character would not be lost by the inclusion of elements common to Christianity and one or more other religions.'

The evidence showed that all prayers said at the school were Christian, although the words were not distinctively Christian. Even the Lord's Prayer, it was pointed out, made no express reference to Christianity. The mothers had sought assurances six years ago that their sons would not be exposed to non-Christian religions in their education. Manchester city council said it could not give such assurances. The women's sons are now above primary school age but they pursued the case on a point of principle.