The ban would counter parents with “extreme views” who are preventing their children from learning about other religions, particularly Islam, claims a senior Church figure.
Derek Holloway, the Church’s head of Religious Education, says some parents with fundamentalist religious beliefs are “exploiting” laws using “dubious interpretation of human rights legislation” to remove their children from RE lessons. He explained in a blog post that this leaves children ill-equipped to live in a diverse society.
Holloway told the Press Association: “This is seemingly because they do not want their children exposed to other faiths and world views, in particular Islam. We are concerned that this is denying those pupils the opportunity to develop the skills they need to ‘live well together’ as adults.”
Parents are currently allowed to remove their children from RE lessons without providing any reasons, but Holloway argues this is a detriment to the students.
“The right of withdrawal from RE now gives comfort to those who are breaking the law and seeking to incite religious hatred,” Holloway says. He adds that RE, along with other classes, can help combat extremism and foster social cohesion.
“Anecdotally, there have also been some cases in different parts of the country of parents with fundamentalist religious beliefs also taking a similar course. This is not confined to any one particular religion or area of the country,” he says.
Holloway, who was himself a teacher at comprehensive schools in Essex and Wiltshire, also calls for standardised RE lessons in the curriculum. He says that withdrawing students from RE conflates the risk of religious teachings with the act of worship, and therefore “perpetuates the myth that RE is confessional in all schools and aligns RE too closely with collective worship in the minds of the media and the public”.
The British Humanist Association (BHA), a secular charity, has criticised the Church for having pushed for the faith exemptions in the first place.
“We agree with the Church that RE is an important subject, and we agree that parents should not withdraw their children from it unless it is imbalanced or being used to push a particular set of beliefs. But as long as schools, faith-based or otherwise, continue to provide this kind of [faith-based] RE, the right to withdraw remains important in defending children’s freedom of religion and belief,” says Andrew Copson, BHA Chief Executive.
A spokesman from the National Secular Society also rejected the Church’s call and said: “Unless the Church of England support an end to the exemptions allowing faith schools to teach RE in a partisan way according to the school’s own religious ethos, talk of ending the right of withdrawal is clearly premature.”
The Church of England claims that many share its view and that a broad consensus exists “across the sector – both from teachers and RE advisers – that the right of withdrawal from RE is being exploited by a minority and should now be reviewed.”
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