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Nicky Morgan on atheism in schools

Although the UK is hardly some kind of repressive theocracy, I found Nicky Morgan’s recent comments on the teaching of religion in schools a little annoying.

Pupils in Britain’s schools should be taught that the country is mainly Christian and are free to prioritise the teaching of organised religion over atheism, the Education Secretary has said.

Clearly this country has a strong Christian heritage which is reflected in various ways which go beyond a belief in the tenets of Christianity.  But why should religion of any kind be privileged over atheism? RS syllabuses are much preoccupied with ethics, and it seems reasonable to inform pupils that many people’s views on these issues are completely unaffected by belief in the supernatural.  The stories and doctrines of the different faiths will need more time to expound than lack of belief – but pupils could at least be reminded that monotheism and polytheism are not the only alternatives.

Nicky Morgan has turned her attention to this issue in response a recent High Court ruling on the need to include non-religious views in the curriculum,

Morgan said of her later clarification: “This Government is determined to protect schools’ freedom to set their own religious studies curriculum, in line with the wishes of parents and the local community.

But judging by surveys of religious beliefs in the UK, it might be that a good many parents would favour more acknowledgement of non-religious world views.

A source close to Morgan was quoted by the Press Association as saying: “Nicky has had enough of campaign groups using the courts to try and force the teaching of atheism and humanism to kids against parent’s wishes.

“That’s why she’s taking a stand to protect the right of schools to prioritise the teaching of Christianity and other major religions.”

The children of atheist parents frequently sit through religious assemblies that push Christianity (albeit probably in a gentle way), and don’t just teach pupils about that faith.  Yet children of religious parents are apparently in need of being protected from simply learning about atheism/humanism. This is the best rated comment under the Daily Mail report:

My daughter does not go to a faith school but us being taught Christianity (she’s 6). This, apparently, is part of RE, but I don’t like the way it’s taught as if it is true by the teacher. Throwing some atheism lessons into the mix would balance it out a bit. My daughter now believes that the Christian creation story.

This is taken from the Telegraph report:

Mrs Morgan is concerned that humanists are using the courts as part of a “creeping ratchet effect” which will ultimately see primary schools forced to teach children about atheism.

The beliefs of a large – and growing – group within Britain are being treated as though they were almost malign.

I very much agree with Andrew Copson.

But BHA chief executive Andrew Copson said: “All the usual contemporary justifications for the teaching about religions in schools … logically also apply to the teaching of humanism”.

Returning to that first quote:

Pupils in Britain’s schools should be taught that the country is mainly Christian and are free to prioritise the teaching of organised religion over atheism, the Education Secretary has said.

Nicky Morgan’s arguments seem illogical. Whereas she claims to respect the right of schools to take the views of families and communities into account when it comes to protecting their children from learning about atheism, she doesn’t hesitate to assert that pupils ’should be taught’ that this is a mainly Christian country, even though that point is contestable. If it’s true that many atheists, like me, are culturally Christian, then it is also true that many British Christians are in their turn strongly influenced by various secular/Enlightenment/Humanist views. This survey suggests that many who identify as Christian don’t in fact believe in God.  And, if we are playing the numbers game, and take the most optimistic view of Christian numbers in this country, then logically we should also acknowledge that lack of belief is at least the next most popular view.