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16th November 2015

Religious studies GCSE faces strong opposition from secular groups

A group of parents and their children as well as multiple religious leaders have challenged the decision to exclude non-religious world views such as humanism from the RS GCSE curriculum

A recent decision by the government to rule out the study of non-religious worldviews in the curriculum for the Religious Studies GCSE has been met with fierce opposition by parents and children.

According to the curriculum, students are asked to conduct in-depth research on two different faiths. A study of a non-religious world views such as humanism are not permitted as part of this research.

In a statement to The Mancunion, a spokesperson for the University of Manchester Free Speech and Secular Society said: “As secularists we strongly support the right to religion. That means the right to have, enter and leave a religion, and not to be part of any religion. Given that—according to recent surveys—only 47 to 51 per cent of the British population is religious, we think it’s absolutely necessary that children be exposed to reason-based views of human nature.”

When the curriculum was introduced in February, multiple religious leaders, including the then-Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, wrote to the Department of Education to question the government’s judgement on excluding the study of humanism. Since then, three parents have taken the government to court, arguing that the new curriculum is inconsistent with the government’s obligation to respect freedom of religion and belief.

On the topic of humanism, the Free Speech and Secular Society adds: “If religion has a place in taxpayer-funded schools, surely a comprehensive doctrine like humanism that teaches to reject received wisdom and develop critical thinking should be introduced for the sake of balance and to reflect the diversity of modern Britain.

“We welcome the fact that pupils now have the opportunity to choose between a wide range of religions, but it should not be forgotten that—from Christopher Marlowe to Bertrand Russell—questioning established religions has been a fundamental part of British culture. Therefore we think the decision to exclude non-religious views from GCSE is fundamentally unfair, and parents have good reasons to be concerned about it.”

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