Government plans to force children to pray

The Goverment’s take on freedom of belief is examined by East London Humanists [Opinion piece Ilford Recorder (9.6.22); Barking & Dagenham Post (8.6.22.)]

Raise your hand if you support freedom of religion and belief. 

You may be surprised to learn that this basic right has only been enshrined in our law since 2000, when the Human Rights Act 1998 came into force. And gobsmacked that changing the Act is a key priority for the Government, announced in last month’s Queen’s speech. 

An unprecedented coalition of over 220 organisations has vowed to fight this power grab and defend the Act.  Co-ordinated by Humanists UK, signatories comprise a swathe of charities, religious groups, journalists and many others. 

The coalition argues that the Act is proportionate and well-drafted and protects everyone’s fundamental liberties. Any government that cares about freedom and justice should celebrate and protect it, not demean or threaten it. 

Elsewhere in the Government’s programme there’s a grim insight into their thinking on ‘freedom of belief.’ s.21 of the Schools Bill, published also in May, states “Each pupil in attendance at an Academy school with a religious character must on each school day take part in an act of collective worship.”   One can think of several despotic regimes comfortable with forcing children to pray, but do we want to live in that sort of country? The Schools Bill is currently under scrutiny by the Lords. 

Constitutional law is not the sexiest subject, and the complexities are beyond the scope of a mere opinion piece. But be in no doubt that the Government plans to ‘reform’ human rights law would take this country backwards. They are as backward-looking as their attempt to bolster the outdated law on compulsory worship. They would hinder Humanists on their long road to secure equal treatment with the religious. And Humanists are just one of countless ‘interest groups’ for whom the Act is a key to achieving fairness, and whose reasonable aspirations would be thwarted.

This Government has a history of U-turns, and there is some good news. The Schools Bill also includes provisions to clamp down on the scourge of illegal religious schools. This is the culmination of a campaign started by Humanists UK 8 years ago.  We are delighted and thankful to the Government for listening to us and taking action.

So, if you put your hand up, please do support the campaign to protect the Human Rights Act. There is hope that together we can persuade the Government to backtrack.

Paul Kaufman
Chair East London Humanists

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