School Disassembly

A weird contrast that highlights the complete mess concerning enforced religious worship and religious instructions inside British schools:

In January it was reported that the Welsh Assembly were proposing plans which would allow Sixth form pupils in Wales to opt out of Christian assemblies regardless of parents’ wishes.

The proposals were dubbed a “betrayal of Welsh culture” by the Union of Welsh Independent Chapels.

Earlier last year parents were outraged as two schoolboys from Stoke-on-Trent were punished by their comprehensive school teacher for refusing to pray to Allah.

The boys, from Alsager High School in Cheshire, were given detention after they said they didn’t want take part in the Muslim prayer as part of their Religious Education class.

“Sixth form” pupils, it should be noted, are aged between 16 and 18. Pupils can currently be excused from assemblies if their parents object; at my state school this meant the two Asian kids and a Jehovah’s Witness stood in a corridor while everyone else went through the assembly, which included school notices and general topical discussions mixed in with religious exhortations, hymns and prayers. As the 1980s progressed, though, the hymns and prayers became increasingly mumbled and some pupils became increasingly bold in their disdain or mockery; despite demands from the headmaster for a better show it was obviously a losing battle. At one assembly we were all given a Gideon pocket New Testament, although pupils could decline to accept if they wished. I still have mine. Presumably American readers will be baffled to learn that this kind of thing is not considered to be controversial, despite low levels of church attendance in the UK and despite widespread ignorance about and disinterest in Christian beliefs.

As regards Religious Education, I actually had, on the whole, very good teachers, but I understand that in many schools teachers of this subject still see their job as a chance to evangelise rather than a duty to provide a neutral introduction to religion. I recall that that we once had to watch an American Christian anti-abortion video; I was fascinated by the strange histrionics of the televangelist presenter, although that wasn’t supposed to be the point (and look where it’s led me now!).

The two incidents mentioned above are provided by the Christian Institute as background to this story:

A headteacher has been forced to resign after trying to scrap separate Islamic assemblies in favour of promoting a single gathering for all pupils of all faiths.

Julia Robinson said she believed the change would encourage “inclusiveness” in the school but instead was accused of racism.

…Fiyza Awan, 19, a Muslim whose younger sister is a pupil, said: “When Mrs Robinson took over she said she wanted one assembly for all the students.

“We didn’t have a problem with that but wanted a secular assembly where no hymns were sung and topics involving all the children could be discussed. But after a while hymns were introduced again and we objected.

“We told Mrs Robinson we wanted our children withdrawn and to have a separate assembly again.

Some other reports say that the head resigned for an undisclosed personal reason, although there is some understandable scepticism about this. It is unclear how and where exactly the accusation of “racism” was made; conservative commentators have been quick to declare the incident as proof of emerging “Muslim ghettos”.