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Scotland is a beautiful country, rich in heritage and culture. They have contributed everything from medical advancements to technological invention to the rest of the world. There is not a day goes by that most people worldwide do not make use of at least one Scottish innovation. The people are friendly and welcoming and let's be honest, they speak with one of the warmest accents in the whole world.
However, there is part of their tradition that is holding them back in the way of societal advancement and includes something that here in the United States we don't have to worry about. It's called Religious Observance (R.O.) and it's not just limited to private or denominational schools either. What this means is that every week of every school term children can be pulled from academic instruction to receive what amounts to religious indoctrination. Children generally attend holiday observances about six times a year, but it can vary by school. Now this is not a mandatory attendance, by any means. However generally speaking only about half of all parents are informed that their children don't have to attend. The way it's set up is what is referred to as "Opt-out" which means that as default every child attends unless otherwise specified.

To find out more about this I spoke to Mark Gordon, father and author of a petition that seeks to make a very simple but important change to how things work. Currently, in order to keep your child from attending religious service parents are required to make contact with the school and notify them that they wish for their child to be withheld from attending.

In the larger areas, like Glasgow or Edinburgh parents pulling their children from service isn't as much of an issue due to the population of the schools. There is more of a variety of students including a large number of Muslim children. If a parent wishes to pull their child from the services s/he will not be the only one. However in the smaller, more outlying areas often there are but only one or two which leaves some parents not really wanting to rock the boat or single their child out of the entire student population. There is also the problem of parents being unaware of their option to have their child not attend. It seems that not all parents are being notified of their right to "Opt-out" either. Scouring through the many different school handbooks shows a very small percent that actually mention the option.

This is where Mr. Gordon's petition comes in to play. What it would do is change the default from "Opt-out" to an "Opt-in" making it left to the parents to decide whether they wish to have their child participate in R.O., which is where it should be. This seems like a no-brainer to an American citizen. We have laws specifically set to prevent anything of this sort from happening. However Scotland didn't evolve the same way the U.S. did despite the fact that our "Declaration of Independence" was somewhat based on their own "Declaration of Arbroath" (that's right, just one more thing we can thank the Scots for).

Scotland has a great many of their schools established and funded by the Church. Historically speaking the church has maintained power over how schools are run and how often R.O. is instituted. To make any change to this would limit the control that the Church has over the education of Scottish children. However it's a change that parents like Mark and the members of Secular Scotland (the organisation supporting the petition) are ready for.

Secular Scotland in no way wishes to remove R.O. from the schools. This may sound incredible to an American parent as we fight every day to uphold the separation of church and state that our Constitution grants us (based incidentally on the Scottish National Covenant of 1638). However for a country like Scotland making a small change like what this petition requests is a major step for the country, and one that the majority of her citizens can live with.

For my full interview, follow this link:

 To sign the petition, you can follow either scan the image to the left or follow this link:

For the full PDF petition, you can follow this link:

For the Press Release issued by Secular Scotland:

For more information about Secular Scotland visit their website here:  or you can join them in conversation on Facebook:

Local Article on Mark Gordon:

Originally posted to SheilaBlackadder on Tue Jun 18, 2013 at 12:42 AM PDT.

Also republished by More and Better Democracies.


Do you agree with what Mark Gordon and Secular Scotland are hoping to accomplish?

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6%4 votes

| 61 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  The Interview Link (5+ / 0-)

    For whatever reason it won't let me fix it, but the actual link for the interview is:

    •  Interesting diary. I love Scotland, and was just (7+ / 0-)

      listening to an audiobook of an Ian Rankin novel.

      It does seem like parents will have a steep hill to climb in their efforts to alter the influence of the church. It has held power for so long that it has become all but invisible to many.

      This change may appear to be only a small step but it is more like that huge first step in a long journey.

    •  Here you go. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

    •  I don't understand (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      why the petition is set up not just for Scots (of whom I am a proud descendant) to sign, but also for citizens of other countries.

      Being the single intellectual in a village of 1,100 souls ain't much fun, especially when 1,099 of those don't think you're all that smart.--Lucy Marsden

      by Miniaussiefan on Tue Jun 18, 2013 at 05:46:15 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Actually you can. (0+ / 0-)

        It's open to everyone to sign. I am in the States and I signed. There have been many from Australia that have signed as well.

      •  Scotland has some autonomy (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Wee Mama, Gordon20024

        in matters of Church and State because it was a separate country before the creation of Great (as in Greater) Britain. The same is true, to a lesser extent, for Wales and Northern Ireland. I suspect because these are Church-run schools, it's a Scottish, as opposed to a British, institution that's being petitioned here.

        FWIW, there's still a Bank of Scotland that prints currency usable in-country, but not in the rest of Great Britain.

        Radarlady, not-so-secretly hoping the Scottish Nationalists prevail in the referendum come the autumn.

        •  work needed on your Welsh history? (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          Scotland was an independent nation which was joined to England by having the same king in 1603 - and then chose union in the early C18th (rationale under much debate then and now).  Wales had been conquered by England well before those events!  It seems brutal put that way but has the virtue of historical accuracy, and explains how institutions evolved as they did.

          However, there has been much devolution of authority on this and that in recent years.  This may have confused you?

          And its not just the Bank of Scotland which issues banknotes - which you will find fairly easy to use in England (big stores take them, and any bank)

          Why do you want the independence movement to win - and it's not autumn 2013 that they vote.  Let's leave that to Scotland residents!

          •  I'm an American-born Scot and (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            radarlady, Gordon20024

            I hope for independence for Scotland in 2014. My Scotland-born Grandmother felt the same. Support from other countries is more than welcomed from those who live in Scotland and desire independence from the United Kingdom. As the UK is one of the countries we have an alliance with everyone here should be aware of what is happening.

            I will agree though that knowing factual information is better than passing off inaccurate statements however.

          •  I was attempting to keep my comment short (0+ / 0-)

            Oh, well :-)  That's why I didn't get into devolution, which has given some independence to Wales as well, if I remember correctly.

            I'm an American of Scots descent. I had ancestors who left  the country during the Highland Clearances, which is why I keep rooting for Scottish independence. And, I knew the date for the referendum was a few months hence, but I misremembered it as the autumn of this year. Thanks for the correction.

            You've covered some of the differences between Scottish and Welsh history, which I learned more about by watching the "History of Wales" series from a few years ago on DVD over the past few weeks.

            My Bank of Scotland comment came from the one chance I had to visit, back in 1988 when I attended a remote sensing conference at the U. of Edinburgh. Perhaps the clerk who handed me the money was pulling an American tourist's leg when she did so, I couldn't say. I had a wonderful time, and it didn't rain nearly as much I had been warned it would (this was in September). My Mom had told my sister and me the story of Greyfriars Bobby when we were growing up, so I made a point to find Greyfriars Kirk and wander around. Interesting to learn the mathematician Maclaurin was buried there as well.


            •  does independence make sense NOW (1+ / 0-)
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              stuff old history -and who may or may not be responsible for the appalling Clearances.  I say that as a lover of history!

              Righting old wrongs (if indeed possible) may appeal to  the heart but let's be serious.  In the C21st, what is the best way forward?

              I hope that Scots in residence vote with their heads, at least in part. You will know that opinion is divided, and that the independence support is weakening - for whatever reason.  

              I don't know where I would stand on this...

    •  but which church do you mean? (0+ / 0-)

      there are many kinds of Protestant  and then the catholics and all  non-Christian options.....

      there are even subdivisions of the Free Church!

      and I don't see any of them wanting to work with each other.  I doubt that the Wee Frees regard the Catholics as godly at all.  It isn'tmonolithic, the 'religious'side.

      When I was at school in Scotland  - a while ago! - we had an assembly of the whole school once a day, much like in England where I went next.  All very denomination-neutral and bland, with only a Lord's Prayer to confuse and put off a Jewish buddy of mine from attending and opt-out.  

  •  I applaud these efforts to separate the two (8+ / 0-)

    Many Americans will find it pretty hard to understand how this works, in Scotland and England, to a lesser extent.

    The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is not a secular state.

    We have an Established Church with the Queen as the Head of State and Head of the Church. The Archbishop of Canterbury is the religious head and spiritual advisor to the Queen.

    The Bishops are seated in the House of Lords, our un-elected second chamber.

    However ... The Queen is a Constitutional Monarch, and sovereignty is not vested in the Crown, but in Parliament. The Queen has no legislative authority save a reserved power to veto an act of self-perpetuation by parliament.

    Her duties wrt government are the rights to be consulted, to advise and to warn. This she does every Tuesday in a meeting with her Prime Minister.

    Scotland has some further devolved powers, and they are currently arguing about whether or not they should have more.

    Given the special position held by the Church, religion plays a fairly minor role in public life. They do talk quite a lot, but actually few people take the Bishops very seriously on political matters.

    In any event, despite the apparent contradiction, the UK is far less influenced by the Church than is the United States, where there is a religious test for pretty much everything. Irony abounds here, I know!

    So broadly, British people remain fairly happy with both the Church and the Monarchy. Yes they are anachronisms, and yes, progressives would like them both gone from public life, and no, most do not see it as a priority, and we do not want President Cameron ... or Blair :)

    The drive to keep the schools as free as possible from religious influence is important. Conflating church and school serves neither very well, especially in a multi-cultural society.

    just my 2c.

    I hope that the quality of debate will improve,
    but I fear we will remain Democrats.

    Who is twigg?

    by twigg on Tue Jun 18, 2013 at 01:19:51 AM PDT

  •  People make up their own mind (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    radarlady, Wee Mama, slowbutsure

    eventually if they believe in g*d or not. I grew up in Germany and we had religion class once a week. When I turned 14 I had the option to opt out, but didn't cause I hated math more.
    I officially left the church at 16 and yes I had to sign a paper at the courthouse.

    I have no problem with teaching children about different religions, maybe then people wouldn't grow up to be so narrow minded.

    El pueblo unido jamás será vencido. The people united will never be defeated

    by mint julep on Tue Jun 18, 2013 at 02:21:45 AM PDT

    •  The author of the petition (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      radarlady, Gordon20024

      actually feels the same as you. Actually so do I. As a parent I taught my children about various religions and left it to them to decide for themselves, as my parents did for me.
      This isn't about removing religion from the schools but simply putting the choice in the hands of the parents.

      •  And others? (0+ / 0-)

        How do people in Scotland feel?

        There's no reason why Scotland should change to conform to American-style aesthetics unless the people of Scotland really feel the need to.

        I'm not sure what there is here other than "another country does something differently, though well within the norms of other western democracies."

        •  This isn't about "American-style aesthetics" (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          but what the parents of Scotland want. It's started by a parent living in Scotland who wants the right to decide whether his three children have to attend RO. He explains it better than I could in the interview linked in the article.

    •  The rule of thumb for teaching religion in (0+ / 0-)

      public schools (based on emotional development) is:  K-5:  no religion, 6-8:  teach religions as part of history but limit any kind of debate, high school: most students can handle some  debate about religion, teacher need to keep the discussion respectful

      ...Son, those Elephants always look out for themselves. If you happen to get a crumb or two from their policies, it's a complete coincidence. -Malharden's Dad

      by slowbutsure on Tue Jun 18, 2013 at 10:32:45 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Societal advancement? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    there is part of their tradition that is holding them back in the way of societal advancement

    How is Scotland not societally "advanced"? Many would argue that it is more advanced than England in many respects. Strict "separation of church and state" in the American and French model is not universal among western democracies.

    •  Possibly not. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      However that doesn't mean that it's not something they do not want nor is it unattainable by anyone else either. I love Scotland, and personally I hope they get the Independence they seek next year.
      Also, allowing the Church to make decisions that affect people who do not follow the same beliefs somewhat puts you behind those countries that do. Not in any way except that it's still catering to only those of a particular belief system. If only 1 out of every 5 follows that belief then you are ignoring the needs of the other 4. Every society has to evolve to accommodate the needs of everyone. Scotland is just asking for a very small accommodation.

      Of course, things here in the States aren't as they should be either. We have to fight every day to keep Creationism out of schools and city governments from trying to push prayer into official meetings. No one is perfect.

  •  There is a hell of a lot more proselytizing (0+ / 0-)

    of religion in America's public schools than most people realize.

    In an atheist's view, just saying the pledge with "under God" every day in classrooms is pretty much a total form of brainwashing kids into the idea that their country has decided once and for all that there IS a "God".

    •  Do schools even recite the pedge anymore? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I know some areas that don't. Also, there is no law that says that "under god" has to be said nor is it necessary to recite the pledge itself.

      Also, as a parent myself I am completely aware of the proselytizing that happens. I have three kids, all of them raised to discover for themselves and of them 2 are atheist and one is agnostic. Educating my children about their choices and leaving the rest to them to decide has allowed them to come to a logical place in their beliefs.

      Here's my series on child indoctrination I wrote for another blog several months ago:

      •  I worked in public school districts in IL (0+ / 0-)

        for several years about ten years ago. At that time they were still saying it in the elementary schools. Each day a class was chosen to come down to the office and lead the whole school.

        Thanks for the links... I'll check them out.  

        Locally we have a problem with a large evangelical church who has decided that the public schools are a "mission field".  They are handing out bracelets for Christian teacher to wear that have some cryptic set of initials in it (standing for a religious statement). The idea is that if the kids ask about it, then the teacher is free to talk about their faith without being the one to initialize the conversation. It's a blatant baiting of children for the purposes of proselytizing.

        A very excellent (but upsetting) book on the issue of using public schools to proselytize is The Good News Club by Katherine Stewart.

  •  spelling error in title (0+ / 0-)



  •  Ah, the Scots (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Locked in eternal combat with their hereditary mortal enemies…the Scots!

    I'm a Monroe.

    The Scottish Enlightenment gave us David Hume, Adam Smith, and Scotty on Star Trek, the heir of every Scottish engineer on nearly every steamship. (Jamie on Doctor Who came out of the military in that period. He did just fine as Patrick Troughton's companion.) Among many other treasures.

    The Scots invented free public education. Admittedly, it was so that every Scottish child could read the Bible, but the theory among a number of Protestant churches, going back to Martin Luther himself, was that every Christian had to come to his own understanding of God and his religious duty, not have it imposed from outside.

    Ceterem censeo, gerrymandra delenda est

    by Mokurai on Tue Jun 18, 2013 at 08:43:29 AM PDT

  •  Very good diary, Sheila. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    And welcome back.

    I'm glad you returned.

    What, sir, would the people of the earth be without woman? They would be scarce, sir, almighty scarce. Mark Twain

    by Gordon20024 on Tue Jun 18, 2013 at 02:10:02 PM PDT

    •  Thanks. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Sorry it took so long. I've been kept pretty busy. :-)

      •  Busy is good. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        The voice you write in speaks with concern, knowledge and passion. You come across as an informed and caring person.

        You mention being in the bible belt. Will you be able to attend the meet up in Asheville, NC July20?

        What, sir, would the people of the earth be without woman? They would be scarce, sir, almighty scarce. Mark Twain

        by Gordon20024 on Tue Jun 18, 2013 at 03:25:34 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Well, thank you again. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          I'm glad you enjoyed reading it. I certainly enjoyed meeting both Caroline and Mark and getting the chance to talk to them both. I have a podcast that will air on 1 August that will include another of Secular Scotland's representatives along with a group leader from Australia and one from Ireland. I am really enjoying meeting people and helping spread the word about issues relevant to everyone.

          I'm not sure if I can make that one or not. I have 11 different states I travel between and unfortunately NC isn't one of them. However I will let you know if that changes or if my schedule opens for that date.

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