The top education official in the United Kingdom made waves by instructing public schools to teach students that Britain is a Christian country, and saying religious views can be prioritized over those of atheists.
The guidance by education minister Nicky Morgan says there is “no obligation for any school to give equal air time to the teaching of religious and non-religious views,” and non-religious views can potentially be excluded entirely. Instead, when studying religion in school, Morgan says instruction should “reflect the fact that the religious traditions in Great Britain are, in the main, Christian.”
Morgan’s guidance comes amid a significant debate over the precise role of Christianity in Britain. Unlike the United States, the U.K. has an official religion, the Church of England. But earlier this month, a commission sponsored by Cambridge University published a report arguing that the rise of Islam and declining churchgoing rates mean Britain should no longer be considered a Christian country. The report recommended placing imams and rabbis in the House of Lords and suggested de-Christianizing British society in a variety of other ways.
Morgan’s remarks come a few days after a Christmas message delivered by Prime Minister David Cameron, where Cameron emphasized Britain’s identity as a Christian country. It also comes after a recent High Court ruling which found the government’s religious curriculum improperly prioritized Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and other religions.
Morgan says the court’s ruling shouldn’t affect how schools handle religion classes.
“I am clear that both faith and non-faith schools are completely entitled to prioritize the teaching of religion and faith over non-religious views if they wish,” she says. To address the High Court’s ruling, she said schools could choose to cover non-religious values outside of religion class, if they want.
According to The Telegraph, a Morgan spokesman said the new guidance is intended to prevent a “creeping ratchet effect” by atheists trying to have their views placed in school curricula. The British Humanist Association (BHA), a group promoting non-religious values, has been pushing for British schools to treat religious and secular worldviews equally.
“All the usual contemporary justifications for the teaching about religions in schools … logically also apply to the teaching of humanism,” Copson said in a statement.
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