Humanists in Scotland launch legal bid to give students the right to opt out of religious observance in schools.

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Humanists in Scotland launch legal bid to give students the right to opt out of religious observance in schools.

Humanists have launched a legal challenge to give pupils the right to opt out of religious observance in Scottish schools.

The Humanist Society Scotland (HSS) is to seek a judicial review at the Court of Session in Edinburgh after the Scottish Government rejected calls for a change to the current rules which permit only parents to opt out on their children’s behalf. The move follows a recent review by the United Nations Children’s Rights Committee which recommended the parental right to opt out of religious observance should be extended to young people.

The HSS, a charity for non-religious people in Scotland, said the refusal to update guidance in the wake of the UN review meant ministers had potentially acted unlawfully.

Under the legal action submitted the HSS has deliberately not specified at what stage children should be given the right to avoid religious observance in schools, but a number of options are available from 13 upwards.

The Scottish Government believe its position chimes with the European Convention of Human Rights which rules that learning and teaching must take place in a way that respects both religious and non-religious beliefs.

And it has been argued that schools already have a duty to take into account the views of their pupils who would be expected to discuss the issue of withdrawal with their parents.

In Scotland, all young people require parental permission to pull out of religious observance, unlike England and Wales where sixth form pupils – typically aged between 16 and 18 – have the right to opt out.

The law which governs religious observance, originally dating from 1872, has not been updated since 1980 and the latest guidance from the Scottish Government was issued in 2011.

Gordon MacRae, chief executive of the HSS, said: “In Scotland young people are trusted to get married, join the army and vote in elections and for the constitutional future of Scotland. However, Scottish ministers still do not trust them to make their own decisions about attending religious observance or to give young people the same rights as those living in England and Wales.

“For some time now, we have been calling on the Scottish Government to update its policy on religious observance. I had hoped that if they would not listen to us then at least they would listen to the United Nations.”