Atheist parents launch legal action over Christian school assemblies ‘indoctrinating’ their children

'We noticed harmful aspects of evangelism spreading which goes against our children’s rights'

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Tuesday 30 July 2019 08:18 BST
Atheist parents launch legal action over Christian school assemblies ‘indoctrinating’ their children

Parents who claim that their children are being religiously “indoctrinated” by Christian school assemblies are taking the academy chain to court in the first case of its kind.

Lee and Lizanne Harris will say in a judicial review claim that Burford primary school in Oxfordshire made their children pray and watch re-enactments of Bible stories including the crucifixion – which they argue are a breach of their human rights.

The couple say the school refused to provide a meaningful alternative when they withdrew their children from the assemblies and were instead left in a room with an iPad and teaching assistant.

The parents have launched a High Court bid against Oxford Diocesan Schools Trust (ODST), which runs the school, to challenge the decision to hold a daily act of Christian worship without an inclusive alternative of “equal educational worth” .

In their submission to court, the couple expressed concerns about Christian indoctrination spreading into other aspects of the school - including the school leavers’ ceremony which is held in a church and where students receive a bible as a "guide to life".

All church and community schools are required by law to provide a “daily act of collective worship”, but parents are entitled to withdraw their children.

But the couple argue that Christian worship at the school extends far beyond what the law requires and constitutes indoctrination - a practice that violates the rights to freedom of belief of parents and pupils as outlined in the Human Rights Act 1998.

Burford primary school was a community school with no religious character when the couple enrolled their children there. But in 2015 it became an academy and joined the Church of England’s ODST.

In a statement, the couple said: “Over time we noticed harmful aspects of evangelism spreading into assembly and other parts of the school which goes against our children’s rights to receive an education free from religious interference.”

They added: “This case is about the day to day reality of what happens when our children go to school and are not in our care. We take this step very reluctantly but feel strongly that we need to try to make our children’s education as inclusive as possible.”

Anne Davey, chief executive of ODST, said: "ODST is confident that Burford Primary School has acted entirely appropriately, and has followed statute in ways that are similar to all local or indeed national schools.

"It has provided exactly what the law requires, which includes provision for children to be withdrawn if parents so request."

Support free-thinking journalism and attend Independent events

Andrew Copson, chief executive of Humanists UK, which is working with the parents, said: “We are the only sovereign state in the world to require schools to hold daily Christian worship, yet 80 per cent of our young people and 75 per cent of people of parental age are not Christians.”

He added: “Requiring children to participate in religious worship and then marginalising them if in good conscience they cannot, ignores their right to freedom of religion or belief and is a negation of inclusion.”

The case on school worship, which is the first of its kind, is due to be heard on 29 November in the High Court.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in