UK Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has said that Britain is a Christian country, and therefore schools have the right to teach established religions to the exclusion of atheism. This newly-enacted policy is in opposition to a recent court ruling that excluding atheism is counterproductive to educational goals, and a two-year study that found that the UK is no longer mostly Christian. According to its proponents, attention to atheism can be paid outside of Religious Studies courses.
The Ministry has published new guidance for secular and non-faith schools, saying that they do need not to give “equal parity” to non-religious, humanistic, and atheist views and that religious education should “reflect the fact that the religious traditions in Great Britain are, in the main, Christian.”
The guidance states that teachers are not obligated to cover atheism during GCSE Religious Studies courses, which is not considered a core academic subject of the new English Baccalaureate qualification.
The guidance reads:
There is no obligation on any school to cover the teaching of non-religious world views (or any other particular aspect of the RE curriculum) in key stage 4 specifically. Rather it is for schools to determine how they meet their wider obligations across the key stages.
Established major religions like Christianity, Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Sikhism will continue to be taught.
The statement comes in reply to a High Court statement supporting the stance that Morgan had unlawfully excluded atheism from curricula. Three families, backed by the British Humanist Association, won the case, according to Steven Swinford of the Telegraph. According to Justice Warby, the government’s policy was a “breach of the duty to take care that information or knowledge included in the curriculum is conveyed in a pluralistic manner.”
Nicky Morgan is reportedly concerned about a snowball effect that might occur if atheism is taught in Religious Studies courses, leading to the prioritizing of atheism over other religions against the wishes of parents.
According to Sky News, the court’s ruling is further supported by a two-year study by the Commission on Religion and Belief in Public Life. The commission, chaired by the former senior judge Baroness Butler-Sloss, has found that Britain is no longer a Christian country and should drop policies based on that assumption, reports Jess Staufenberg of the Independent. Religious leaders of a variety of faiths were involved and together concluded that Britain should acknowledge itself to be a multi-faith nation.
However, the government seems to disagree, writes the Daily Mail, and Prime Minister David Cameron emphasized in his Christmas speech that the UK is a Christian country.
The new guidance is endorsed by both the Church of England and the Board of Deputies of British Jews.