The Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education (SACRE) is the committee that writes the local Religious Education (RE) syllabus, which covers morality, mutual respect, equality, social cohesion and diversity. SACRE also writes the school guidelines for collective worship, which is a breach of human rights according to the United Nations and the European Court of Human Rights.
WSCC reluctantly appointed Mr Edmondson a full Humanist member of SACRE last year, in order to avoid being sued for discrimination on grounds of religion and belief. He is the only non-religious representative on SACRE.
A few minutes before the meeting began at County Hall, Mr Edmondson was taken aside by Paul Wagstaff, Director of Education and Skills, and told that his agenda item on inclusive assemblies and collective worship was not going to be discussed because SACRE had no involvement with collective worship!
A councillor objected to this, pointing out that the development plan to be discussed later in the meeting included collective worship and that SACRE was the obvious place to do so.
Mr Wagstaff changed his mind and admitted that the role of SACRE was to ensure collective worship took place but that it could not discuss whether it should be enforced, because that was a matter of UK law. The councillor disagreed, citing other council meetings where recommendations were made to change the law. In any case, WSCC can choose to ignore the advice of SACRE.
Incredibly, UK law requires that every school child in every school must participate in an act of collective worship every school day up until the age of 16. This is in direct contravention of the European Convention of Human Rights, which the UK co-authored, and leaves all schools open to prosecution under the European Court of Human Rights. In a High Court decision in 2019, parents at a school in Cardiff, with the legal assistance of Humanists UK, succeeded in forcing their school to provide non-religious assemblies.
Some weeks prior to the meeting, every member was sent a copy of Mr Edmondson’s detailed case for inclusive assemblies (which can be downloaded from here: tinyurl.com/2pbkn29c). This document mentioned the above High Court decision. When Mr Wagstaff was asked by a concerned member if this were true, he replied by saying that any errors in the document would be removed, deviously implying that it was not true. He also denied that WSCC broke UK law by appointing a Humanist member on SACRE, just after the RE advisor, Karen Hammond (who was involved with Mr Edmondson’s appointment) said that they had.
Later on, Mr Edmondson took part in a subcommittee on collective worship, which recommended that SACRE rewrite guidelines to enthusiastically promote collective worship. Mr Edmondson disagreed, of course.
He said “SACRE members cannot be expected to advise schools how to force children to participate in collective worship on the one hand, and then give advice on teaching mutual respect, equality and morality on the other. Why should pupils and parents respect teachers who disrespect their human rights? The credibility and moral authority of the SACRE membership is at stake, which is why they should distance themselves from advising WSCC on collective worship. Only a public statement denouncing collective worship as a breach of human rights will restore their moral credibility.”
As a representative of the national charity Humanists UK, Mr Edmondson invites disgruntled parents to contact him with their stories. He says “The great majority of parents are opposed to collective worship in schools. The 2019 High Court ruling means that parents can confidently challenge their school to provide non-religious inclusive assemblies. Before resorting to the law, however, he suggests that groups of parents should politely request inclusive assemblies, pointing out that collective worship is a breach of human rights. The website Assemblies for All is full of ideas for inclusive assemblies, many with free teaching materials.
Mr Edmondson says “The current government seems intent on removing some of our human rights. Thankfully, it hasn’t yet taken us out of the European Convention of Human Rights, which means it must end compulsory collective worship in our publicly funded schools. Concerned parents, religious or otherwise, should write to their MP demanding this. Freedom of religion and freedom from religion is an important human right enjoyed by the religious but denied the non-religious.”
The 2021 census shows that around 38% of West Sussex residents are non-religious. For the past decade, the annual British Social Attitudes Survey has shown that over 50% of the UK are non-religious. How can any moral person justify forcing all children to participate in a daily act of worship in publicly funded schools until they reach 16 years of age?
The Sussex Press Article has omitted any reference to human rights, the European Convention on Human Rights and the 2019 High Court case. It fails to give an overview of the case against collective worship, instead personalising the event. There are no contact details provided for readers, nor links to more information; I consider this a failure of the public duty of SussexWorld press. Mr Edmondson was not shown a draft of the article, which is good practice to avoid errors. For example, the NASUWT rep Ben Cornford gave the impression that all 2500 teacher members felt that collective worship was not an issue that needed to be challenged, which is untrue, and yet was reported. However, the article has highlighted the issue and exposes the hypocrisy, deception and excuses given by those who support collective worship, especially yes-man Paul Wagstaff, Director of Education and Skills.