Denying the right to opt out of religion


9:42 pm - August 13th 2009

by Jim Jepps    


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The Archbishop of Wales has come out against people being able to opt out of religious services at school.

Barry Morgan thinks that prayer offers pupils the opportunity of “recognition, affirmation and celebration of shared values”, and people should not be allowed to opt out of our shared values, particularly if they don’t share them.

He made the statements as Wales followed England in allowing over 16s to opt of religious service as part of their school day. I should point out that if you’re under 16 you’re still forced to sit through prayers, et al, even if you have firm convictions in another direction, like atheism.

Morgan appears to believe that school prayers are “a shared spiritual experience”, well that’s not how I remember them at all. The idea that you have sports halls packed full of adolescents wrapped in some sort of aesthetic wonder, touched by a divine hand, was somewhat far from the reality I remember.

In fact, as a primary school kid one of my first memories is of being slapped by the headmaster because I didn’t want to pray at school assembly. That showed me the love of Jesus and no mistake.

One RE teacher we had was a real joy. I forget his name because he didn’t last long but he was a fundamentalist Christian of some sort. In his very first lesson with us he rebuked one lad who’d said he didn’t believe in God by telling him “But if you don’t believe in God you can’t have any morals!” This was so palpably false that he instantly transformed us into a room of atheists. Spotty, greasy, Essex atheists.

Sadly Morgan has form. A couple of years ago he was in the news saying that fundamentalist atheism is one of the great problems facing the world. He described removing crosses from hospitals and the like as constituting “virulent, almost irrational” attacks on Christianity. Would I be right in thinking that almost irrational would be… rational? Whatever, that’s by the by.

More importantly he described this tendency to recognise the diversity of our nation in less than glowing terms. “All of this is what I would call the new “fundamentalism” of our age. It allows no room for disagreement, for doubt, for debate, for discussion.”

That would be terrible that, allowing no room for disagreement or doubt. I mean what next? Forcing people to attend religious services they don’t agree with? Where would that all end… oh, hold on.

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cross-posted from The Daily (Maybe)

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About the author
Jim Jepps is a socialist in the Green Party and formerly blogged at the Daily (Maybe). He currently writes on London politics, community and the environment at Big Smoke.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Our democracy ,Religion

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Reader comments


Agreed. So can we make the BBC licence fee voluntary? I don’t share its values and I want to opt out.

1. A little far-reaching your point.

I’m a little more sympathetic to this article’s sentiment. And especially appreciate the shout out to us spotty greasy Essex atheists.

What a cock.

I remember at school, a friend, a Jehovas Witness, being able able to opt out of RE.

Is he just advocating that athiests shouldn’t be able to opt out or that all kids, no matter what their religion or lack of, should have to undergo christian brainwashing, er prayers?

Nick overreaches again, how about you opt-out of saying tittish things?

Surely opting out has always been an option? At school you just closed your eyes in assembly when asked to pray and thought of the French teacher naked while the religious also closed their eyes to pray and thought of the French teacher naked but felt guilty about it.

@1: That would be a fitting analogy, if the government forced us to own televisions, and judicially punished our parents/guardians if we didn’t.

“Nick overreaches again, how about you opt-out of saying tittish things?”

How about you stop hurling abuse at people for a change?

@5, I dunno, its still perfectly legal not to attend a state school. Or any school at all.

@6:

Seriously, he dives in with a cheap shot at the BBC in a post about religion in a school environment?

Nick is private sector mad…

By the law of shatterface, I pronounce you guilty of offending the mentally ill 🙂

10. That is quite funny, though I did think you were overreaching in 1.

Morgan appears to believe that school prayers are “a shared spiritual experience”, well that’s not how I remember them at all.

I don’t remember prayers at school at all. This is a bit of a non-story, no? It doesn’t matter what he thinks – most schools will continue to more or less ignore the law regarding religious services and there is no question that they will continue to allow pupils to opt out.

11. Thanks.

I see it as a question of metacontext. Most people here quite rightly believe that no one should be forced to subsidise or listen to speech that pushes religious values. I don’t think people should be forced to subsidise or listen to speech that pushes any moral values of a religious or secular nature. Rather like Hume’s characterisation of monotheists as athiests about every possible deity but one.

Metacontext?

You have got to be kidding me…

“So can we make the BBC licence fee voluntary?”

It already is. You can voluntarily decide not to watch live tv at all and therefore not pay the licence fee.

However, I do agree that the licence fee should be part of regular taxation instead.

But what this has to do with this post completely baffles me. You are aware that “freedom of religion” is a far bigger issue than the fucking tv licence. People have fought and died over it, and still are. AFAIK, no-one has fought and died over paying their tv licence.

Pupils shouldn’t have to opt out. Religion shouldn’t be taught at all in school. It is way way way past the time when we ended this country’s establishment of religion.

“It already is. You can voluntarily decide not to watch live tv at all and therefore not pay the licence fee.”

And you can voluntarily not go to school too. You can home school, you can go to an independent school. It is just quite costly to do so, just as it is pretty damn annoying not being able to own a TV. And sure people died fighting over freedom of religion. They weren’t fighting about being made, as children, to sit down for 15 minutes to hear a prayer or two.

Nick .17

I would have thought that voluntarily not going to school at all as a response to being forced to sit through prayers is a bit of an over reaction. The point is why should state schools be forced to insist their pupils sit through religious services? I’d prefer us to have freedom of religion without having to opt out of state schooling thanks.

I’m relaxed about religion being part of school life, or not, but we have to recognise that in a free society religious beliefs are our own business and there should be no compulsory element.

“And sure people died fighting over freedom of religion. They weren’t fighting about being made, as children, to sit down for 15 minutes to hear a prayer or two.”

I think you’ll find people have fought and died for things far more trivial than this when it comes to religion. But yes, people have died to prevent any connection between the state and the church which includes this issue.

Daniel .4

“Surely opting out has always been an option? At school you just closed your eyes in assembly when asked to pray and thought of the French teacher naked while the religious also closed their eyes to pray and thought of the French teacher naked but felt guilty about it.”

Opting out of actually believing is as true today as it was during the spanish inquisition. However the post is more about the ability to opt out of attending religious services that do not correspond to your own beliefs, which just seems counterproductive more than anything.

19. Mitchell Stirling

Definitely agree that 17 and 18 year olds have their right to their own opinions on this and likely many under 16s do as well. I know I had little interest in listening to it at that age.

I’m glad you said that Jim Jay.

21. Political_Animal

Interesting article. You have to wonder about the motives of the Archbishop. Is it a genuine (if unfounded) worry about the lowering of morals in society, or just the fact that he can see the captive market of schoolchildren forced into religious belief, slipping away from his grasp?

I am rather split on this for different reasons than you may think. As an anti-theist, I see much damage done by religion and yet I went to a CofE school and still managed to escape from being religious. I didn’t go there because my parents were religious (like most in this country, the only time they entered a church was for weddings and christenings) but because it was the local school, literally 100 yards from my house. Thankfully, despite being a CofE school, it was rather half-arsed towards religion. There were a few songs and a prayer in assembly and the occassional trip to church, but that was about it. But it did present me with my first ‘political’ moment. I clearly recall, at the age of 11 thinking what a load of nonsense all this God stuff was, and I refused to join in with the prayers. Nothing revolutionary, merely didn’t close my eyes, bow my head and put my hands together during the prayer. This has led to a lifetime of being non-religious, if not anti-religious.

I would be happy to just let religious people do what they want as long as they don’t bother me, but as a parent, I am now seeing the negative affects of a religious school on my daughter. She goes to the local school and like my school, is a mere 100 yards from our house (reason being, I consider the social education of living and playing with the children she goes to school with, just as important as the learning of maths, english and all the other subjects). This school, like mine, is a CofE school. The difference though, is startling. This is a very religious school. Religion informs every aspect of school life. The church (to which the school is attached) is involved on a regular basis and even the school newsletters come home with suggested prayers to join our children with. My daughter is constantly referencing Jesus and God and aside from the fact that, as an anti-theist, I find it somewhat annoying, I get worried that the religion may be to such a level, that she may not be able to make a free choice – as I did at such a young age – to reason that it is all complete tosh.

It is a delicate balancing act. Whilst I try to raise her to be a good person, kind and responsible, I try to let her own character come through as much as possible and not force my views onto her and yet, her school is foisting it’s religious views onto her.

It is a worry because in every other aspect, it is a good school. She is progressing well at both the subjects she is learning and the social aspect of school life. I just worry that the religious ‘education’ is so strong, that she may not be able to break free from it, if she wished to.

To refer back to the article, all I can say is that, for such impressionable people as children are, I feel religion has no place in school and it is ultimately up to children to make their own mind up, after learning how to weigh up themselves.

It’s just as tough being a parent though, with a balancing act of what is good for your child in terms of their subject learning in a good school and social learning around their friends and worrying about ny adverse affects there are from a forced belief.

You have to wonder about the motives of the Archbishop.

I suspect that this (along with several other recent statements to emerge from the clergy) is more a nervous pre-emptive strike against the (hopefully) building movement towards disestablishment. They can feel the wind turning, and it’s got their vestments in a twist.

23. Shatterface

‘By the law of shatterface, I pronounce you guilty of offending the mentally ill’

It’s a sin to take my name in vain!

Anyway: ‘Barry Morgan thinks that prayer offers pupils the opportunity of “recognition, affirmation and celebration of shared values”, and people should not be allowed to opt out of our shared values, particularly if they don’t share them.’

Christianity isn’t just a set of values, it’s a set of beliefs in the supernatural. Being kind to people is a value; belief in the ressurrection is not.

Nor are those values exclusive to Christianity: appart from those shared with, borrowed from or handed down to other religions, there are some values atheists share too.

Who can argue with ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you?’

24. Shatterface

‘To refer back to the article, all I can say is that, for such impressionable people as children are, I feel religion has no place in school and it is ultimately up to children to make their own mind up, after learning how to weigh up themselves.’

I think it was the comedian Greg Wolfe who said if children could choose their own religion, they’d go for the one with the monkey.

My neice, who is three, has two dolls, one of which she calls Baby and the other which she calls Jesus. Her parents are atheists and it’s likely she picked the names up from the Nativity play at nursery. Fortunately this has been ballanced out by the nursery rhyme ‘Cinderella, Cinderella, used to be a feller’ which she picked up elsewhere.

Kids just like a story with an unexpected twist.

25. Political_Animal

Absolutely Shatterface, nothing wrong with a child having a fertile imagination. The only trouble comes when adults foist THEIR beliefs in fantasy on to them.

jimjay – I agree with everything you say. I am just trying to push the point a bit further. I don’t want to privilege particular religious OR secular doctrines.

I don’t want to privilege particular religious OR secular doctrines.

But that isn’t happening.

It’s impossible not to privilege any set of values whatsoever. The very attempt to set up some kind of values-free setting for value sets to compete in privileges liberal values.

I share the author of this post’s conclusions, but for a different reason. I’m not particularly bothered about the ability for individuals to opt out of a particular part of school activities – on that level this isn’t necessarily different from the ability to opt out of English lessons if you have strong moral doubts about Shakespeare plays. But as a Baptist I do think that Christianity is perverted when allied to state power, and suffers both in its evangelical reach and in communicating God’s values when it’s anything other than voluntarist. I also think forced prayer necessarily incorporates false worship, and you only have to read the minor prophets to see what God thinks of that. I would certainly want religion removed from all schools except in the RE sense of teaching people something about the history and beliefs of major religions, and basic philosophical arguments about the existence/non-existence of God.

@ Tim f

“I do think that Christianity is perverted when allied to state power”

Is the other knowledge taught at school perverted when allied to state power and imposed by national curriculum?

Is the other knowledge taught at school perverted when allied to state power and imposed by national curriculum?

Since when was worship a form of knowledge?

In case anyone had forgotten, the Church in Wales has been disestabilshed for over 80 years now. Dr Morgan should remember this and not interfere in the public sector.

#30 – as Don suggests, I was talking about Christianity as an expression of faith there. I think major religions should remain on the curriculum as it’s a cultural good for people to have a basic awareness of what other people believe and how they live their lives. Plus, and especially where Christianity is concerned, a lot of great English literature requires some level of knowledge of religion. That does not mean people should be forced into false worship, though.

The Church of Wales is dying and a leading light in the Church of Wales doesn’t want people to be forced to sit through someone else’s religious belief system.

That’ll help.

At school you just closed your eyes in assembly when asked to pray and thought of the French teacher naked while the religious also closed their eyes to pray and thought of the French teacher naked but felt guilty about it.

Oh deary me. I’d completely forgotten about the French teacher. She was gorgeous. Wowsers.


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  2. Jim Jepps

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  3. natalieben

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  4. Liberal Conspiracy

    : Denying the right to opt out of religion http://bit.ly/JrDpd

  5. Jim Jepps

    Over at Lib Con: Denying the right to opt out of religion http://bit.ly/JrDpd

  6. natalieben

    RT @Jim_JeppsOver at Lib Con: Denying the right to opt out of religion http://bit.ly/JrDpd

  7. Pastor Kevin Essett

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