All children that go to school in the UK will have Religious Education lessons. There is no choice until GCSE and even then, many faith schools have R.E. as a compulsory subject.
You might expect me to go on to say how R.E. should not even be taught but I don’t really mind the subject at all. As someone who values secularism, I am serious when I say that people should be allowed to believe whatever they choose as long as those beliefs do not harm or hinder anyone else.
Many will disagree but I think that in today’s society it is important to learn about various perspectives on ethics, cultural tradition and even the wonderfully diverse creation stories. I see R.E. as an opportunity for children to engage in discussion about why humans see the world in the ways they do. Our children can form their own answers to questions about morality and what it means to be human.
Sadly, whilst I defend the status of R.E. as a legitimate subject, my own beliefs about human morality and the relevance of deities are deliberately excluded from discussions about what R.E. lessons should be about.
In West Sussex, the people who set the R.E. syllabus are advised by a group called the Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education (SACRE). SACRE has representatives from several, mostly Christian, religious groups at its meetings. I find it surprising that in the 21st century, the Humanist perspective on religion is not represented. Indeed, the West Sussex Humanists have applied for membership of SACRE in 2007 and 2010 and in both cases their request was rejected without explanation. Will it be rejected again this year?
In the 2011 census, a quarter of the population of England and Wales stated that they were not religious and this proportion is increasing. It is time for the SACRE to respect the wishes of parents who do not want to impose religion on their children and include a meaningful non-theistic perspective in the R.E. syllabus. As the number of good families with no need for religion increases, the case for their views to be reflected only grows stronger. Religions may see this as a threat but I see it as giving our children a more informed choice.
If the SACRE can accommodate the mutually exclusive it can accommodate a meaningful, non-theistic presence too.