At my school, which is a Church of England academy, instead of assemblies, we do "Collective Worship" (although everyone still calls them assemblies). With whole-school assemblies, each class takes turns to pick a few students to read Christian prayers to the whole school. However, in my class, nobody has volunteered, so our teacher is threatening to pick names out of a hat. We (myself and a few other friends who agreed) argue that we cannot be forced to preach the existence of God when we are atheist, as that could violate freedom of speech or a law on religion. Our main points are that we would begin with "Dear Lord," implying that we believe in a God, then end with "Amen," which translates to "I agree/believe," which we don't.

Is forcing an atheist student to read a Christian prayer illegal or prohibited in any way?

Would Article 14 of the UNCRC apply?

  • CE is Church of England?
    – mkennedy
    May 10 '18 at 18:27
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    It sounds like (from "CE Academy" that this is a religious school; as such, legally, it is not unreasonable for them to expect you to participate in religious activities, acting in loco parentis; presumably your parents/guardians have selected this school for you, and so the school is acting in their stead. That said, what is the actual penalty if you refuse? A grade docked? People looking at you weird? Expulsion? What would be the actual consequences if you went up on stage and stated "I believe that this is nonsense" and then refused to read the provide prayer?
    – sharur
    May 10 '18 at 18:44
  • Yes, CE is Church Of England.
    – user18014
    May 10 '18 at 19:38
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    I did think about going up and reading a Stephen Hawking quote which basically says 'God doesn't exist'.
    – user18014
    May 10 '18 at 19:39
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    @sharur N.B. in England, religious schools can be, and often are, state-funded (and 'academies' are, by definition, state-funded), so the "parental choice" aspect might not be so relevant as this could well be the only school in the area.
    – owjburnham
    May 15 '18 at 12:43

Although an academy is state-funded, it is not the government, so limitations on what a government is allowed to do are not applicable, and anyway there is no First Amendment separation of church and state in the UK. I presume your school has a formal faith designation, which means that it is not subject to Section 85 of the Equality Act 2010, which might maybe be a path for escaping the requirement.

The "collective worship" requirement is mandated by the government under Section 70 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, which is extended to academy schools by the funding agreements. The requirement is that "each pupil in attendance at a community, foundation or voluntary school shall on each school day take part in an act of collective worship". Section 71 provides an exception:

If the parent of a pupil at a community, foundation or voluntary school requests that he may be wholly or partly excused from receiving religious education given in the school in accordance with the school’s basic curriculum, from attendance at religious worship in the school, or both from receiving such education and from such attendance, the pupil shall be so excused until the request is withdrawn.

Since a religious academy is not subject to the national curriculum, deviation from whatever the religious requirements are stated in that curriculum is allowed.

  • 1
    The US Constitution isn't mentioned in the question, so the reference to its first amendment (other than this site having a lot of US users) seems a bit overly US-Centric. However, the OP does ask about Article 14 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child -- the first part of which states that "States Parties shall respect the right of the child to freedom of thought, conscience and religion" so the role (or lack thereof) of the government in this is still relevant to the question. I'd suggest an edit to substitute a reference to the UNCRC rather than the US Constitution.
    – owjburnham
    May 15 '18 at 12:50

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