- Peter WeirMinister for Education
Make prayers in assembly optional for Northern Ireland schools to hold
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In Northern Ireland, almost all schools must hold Christian prayers in their assemblies daily. These are known as acts of collective worship under the law.
Teachers can withdraw themselves, but pupils can't, without parental permission. If they aren't religious, they don't have the right to having their views recognised. The only way around this is if their parents will take them out. But because of their own hardline Christian views, they might not.
I don't believe that collective worship should occur at all. It inhibits the ability of pupils to determine their own religion. This is because a single view is promoted above all others. It is not fair for one religious view to have a privilege which no other such view has. In my view, collective worship violates young people's right to freedom of religion. This is because it stops them from being able to decide in a balanced manner what their views actually are. As a vulnerable group, children and young people do not deserve this.
I believe collective worship should face complete abolition. But that's not what this petition is about. Instead, it aims to to change the law so schools can choose whether their assemblies have prayer.
We can achieve this, if we can get enough signatures. We can persuade the Education Minister to change his department's policy. We can show him people want schools to have a choice on prayers in assembly. He can then work to change his Department's position on collective worship. Then, he can put an amendment to the Northern Ireland Assembly to get the law changed.
This is an issue that has affected me. My name is Scott, and I'm 17 years old. When I was 12, I decided I didn't believe in the existence of a god, and was an atheist. Soon, I began asking my school for exclusion from religious events (e.g. Easter/Carol services, collective worship, RE, etc.) but they refused because under the law, I needed a parent's permission. As Christians and people who were averse to kicking up a fuss, my parents refused. I was lucky, though, because they later changed their mind when I was 15. But it still wasn't fair. At any time they could have decided they could put me back into acts of collective worship. It should have been my choice.
Right now, I'm in sixth form. I won't have to do RE. But my parents could put me back into collective worship and the Easter/Carol services. I trust that they won't, but it's not right that they should hold that power. It should be my choice.
By signing my petition, you can help me get that choice, and help many others who want it as well. It's not just about avoiding an assembly. It's about having your identity recognised. It's about your sense of being an independent person, and having this recognised and respected. It's about recognition for having your own views, and not someone else's. Today, I am a humanist. I do not believe in the existence of a god. I deserve to have my views recognised and respected, just like everyone else.
Thank you for reading. I hope you will sign my petition. For me and all other nonreligious young people who want recognition and respect.
- Minister for Education
Currently, your Department's position supports the continuation of mandatory collective worship. We, the undersigned, request you change your Department's position to support giving schools an option on whether or not to hold acts of collective worship in school assemblies, and to take the necessary action to amend the law to effect this.
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