Church of Scotland: We're not suggesting an end to religious observance in schools

Church officials have branded allegations "misleading"

Published 30 January 2014  |  
(PA)

Church of Scotland officials have branded claims that they are proposing an end to religious observance in schools as "misleading", asserting that the Church is merely supporting a change in terminology to reflect government guidelines already in effect.

Earlier this week Christian Today reported that the Church of Scotland was partnering with the Scottish Humanist Society to propose before Parliament that the period of Religious Observance - a statutory requirement for schools in Scotland - is instead named 'Time for Reflection'.

This is in order to increase inclusivity and reflect the diversity of school children and their faiths, the Church says.

However, the proposal has been widely criticised, most notably by the Free Church of Scotland. Reverend David Robertson, a Free Church minister and director of the Solas Centre for Public Christianity, has branded the move as "stab-in-the-back" Christianity and a sign of the Church "capitulating to the secularist agenda".

The Church of Scotland has rejected these claims, however.  A spokeswoman for the Church insisted that it was not proposing an end to religious observance in schools and that the suggested change to 'Time for Reflection' was about using clearer terminology to reflect what actually happens during these periods at school.

"The [Kirk's Church and Society] Council is simply inviting MSPs to consider a change in the official name for religious observance," a statement from the Church of Scotland reads.

It also states that to suggest that the Church wants to remove religion from schools is "entirely without foundation".

In 2005, government guidelines were changed to require non-denominational schools to address children of all faiths and beliefs during assemblies, not just Christians.

These times of 'Religious Observance' - which encourage pupils to consider themes such as wisdom, compassion and justice and are often inspired by stories of faithful Christians - were designed to be more inclusive, though some non-Christian parents still prefer to withdraw their children from these assemblies.

The Church of Scotland is proposing that these periods are be called a 'Time for Reflection' in order to affirm that the nature of these assemblies has indeed changed. It is hoped that this will encourage more parents to allow their children to join in.

The Reverend Sally Foster-Fulton, Convenor of the Church and Society Council, said earlier this week that the proposed name change would support "the community and spiritual development of all pupils, whatever their faith and belief".

In a follow-up statement she criticises the backlash that the Church of Scotland has received since the proposal came to light, and affirms that it will go forward to the General Assembly in May, as is protocol.

"At a meeting yesterday (Jan 29) the Church and Society Council of the Church of Scotland affirmed its support for 'Time for Reflection' becoming the new title for assemblies in Scottish schools. It will now take this recommendation to the General Assembly, the Church's sovereign decision-making body," she says.

"The Council believes that its recommendation is a more accurate name for what is currently called 'Religious Observance' because since government guidelines in 2005, these assemblies have addressed those who follow Christ and those who do not.

"The General Assembly will give the Church the opportunity to see beyond the superficial arguments that have dominated the news in last few days," she concludes.

The Free Church of Scotland have claimed this presentation before the General Assembly demonstrates a "U-turn" in policy from the Church of Scotland.

The Church of Scotland today denied this, saying that it has always been its policy to debate initiatives of this nature in its General Assembly.

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