Christian groups lament passage of bill requiring lessons on atheism, humanism in all Welsh schools

Students seen in a high school classroom.
Students seen in a high school classroom. | Reuters/Stephane Mahe

Christian law firms have expressed concerns over the passing of a bill that would make it mandatory for all schools, including faith schools, in Wales to teach humanism on an equal footing with religions as well as broaden sex education themes and content.

The provisions of the Curriculum and Assessment (Wales) Bill, which is set to become law after passing all debate stages, amount to “transferring the right of parents to decide their child’s best interests about sex and religious education to the State,” writes Elizabeth Francis, a legal officer for human rights group Alliance Defending Freedom, U.K., in an op-ed for The Conservative Woman.

The Bill would change the term “religious education” to “religion, values, and ethics” so that non-religious worldviews can be taught alongside Christianity and other religious beliefs. It would also allow humanists to be part of the bodies that oversee and develop the syllabus, according to The Christian Institute.

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An initial proposal included giving atheists a veto over any religious teaching in schools, but the clause was later dropped. However, it still “allows for disproportionate time to be spent studying Humanism or atheism. It also repealed key safeguards on the teaching of sex education,” the Institute says.

“The Welsh Government ignored two public consultations which clearly opposed these changes,” the Institute’s Wales Officer, Gareth Edwards, said. “In the last census only 815 people said they were humanists in the whole of Wales. Why have they been handed such influence over the content of religious teaching in schools?” he asked.

Kathy Riddick of Wales Humanists, a group that lobbied for the law’s passage, celebrated the lawmakers’ decision.

“We are absolutely delighted that the Senedd has passed this bill and that, after many years of campaigning by Wales Humanists, humanism will be put on an equal footing with religions throughout the curriculum,” Riddick said in a statement. “This is a huge success for inclusive education and Wales is very much leading the way. We congratulate the Government for its achievement.”

Edwards added, “While this is a setback, Christians will still be able to have a positive influence in schools by responding to the public consultation on the RSE code in due course, and parents should also expect to be consulted by their schools before changes are brought in.” 

Francis warned, however, that it’s likely "the Welsh law will act as the final pretext the Scottish parliament needs to move forward with plans to remove the current discretion given to faith schools when teaching sex education.” 

“Particularly when it comes to sensitive topics, the primary role of parents has always been respected as they are best placed to determine what is age-appropriate for the background, culture, and developmental maturity of their children,” she added.

Francis said the governments in England and Wales appear to be “legislating deliberately to neglect parental rights — principles long upheld both domestic and internationally.”

“The reforms also show the speed at which education policy is shifting,” she warned.

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