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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, and one that the majority of her citizens can live with.

For my full interview, follow this link:

To sign the petition, you can either scan the image above 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 Secular Party of America on Wed Jun 19, 2013 at 07:10 AM PDT.

Also republished by Street Prophets and Progressive Atheists.

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Comment Preferences

  •  There's a way to get rid of this, easy. (2+ / 0-)
    (2)It shall not be lawful for an education authority [F40or board of management] to discontinue religious observance or the provision of instruction in religion in terms of subsection (1) above, unless and until a resolution in favour of such discntinuance duly passed by the authority has been submitted to a poll of the local government electors for the education area taken for the purpose, and has been approved by a majority of electors voting thereat.

    (3)A poll under subsection (2) above shall be by ballot and shall be taken in accordance with rules to be made by the Secretary of State, which rules may apply with any necessary modifications any enactments relating to parliamentary or local government elections.

    You can get rid of this on the local authority level. Considering the fights between Holyrood and the councils going on right now, for the time being success on this issue is more likely to happen there. The Scottish Government doesn't have any intention of letting someone rock the national boat as they head towards independence.

    It is important to note that, technically, the United Kingdom is a theocracy, with its head being the queen. The Crown is owned by God, and the Queen acts with the power of god, and has allowed her people to have parliaments which rule in her name with the authority of the Crown.

    Such are the peculiarities of a thousand year old legal system.

    Knowing Scottish politics as I do, I'm sure that eventually this effort can be successful, especially if they start the discussion by ending Religious Observance in the cities.

    It's important to note, as well, that the Education (Scotland) Act of 1980 that codified religious instruction was Margaret Thatcher's government. It was designed to be a bulwark against "godless socialism."

    This is the same government that passed Section 28, a law making "the promotion of homosexuality" illegal.

    That is, it was illegal under Thatcher's government to fight for gay rights.

    There are lots of horrible laws left over from that woman's time in office that need getting rid of. If you want it to happen in the Scottish Parliament, it'll happen at the same ponderous speed anything happens there. It'll be more successful, though, if the majority of Local councils repeal it first.

    It's also important to note that there's nothing, legally, to stop a local council from reinstating religious observances for their schools if parliamentary repeal goes forward.

    Scotland does have an official religion and established kirk, the Church of Scotland. Scottish people have a... unique way of looking at religion.

    I'm not making this up: I was in a Scottish Pub here in New York talking about the new pope, and debating on whether he was really a reformer, and talking about my friend's hope that the hierarchy would change. The Bartender, who lived most of his life in Dundee, came in on my side, and made some statements in support of the Church of Scotland.

    "Mike," I said, dumbfounded "You're an Atheist."

    "Aye," he said, "But I'm a Protestant Atheist."

    Scots have a unique and complicated religious history. Hopefully they'll be able to see that having schoolteachers teach religion is unwise.

    An Fhirinn an aghaidh an t'Saoghail. (The truth against the world.) Is treasa tuath na tighearna. (The common people are mightier than the lords.)

    by OllieGarkey on Wed Jun 19, 2013 at 07:59:42 AM PDT

  •  The UK a theocracy? (0+ / 0-)


    The UK is a democracy, with a constitutional monarchy.  The Queen reigns, and does not rule.  Decisions are made by the government etc.

    Similarly in Denmark,  Norway, etc.

    You think she rules ie RUNS the country?  And does so for God?

    Even for you, honeypetal, that is a bad joke.

    Wanna see a theocracy?  Look at Iran.

    •  "Technically" (0+ / 0-)

      Just like "Technically," Iran is a Democracy.

      Iran functions as a theocracy. The UK functions as a Democracy.

      We're talking about technicality, rather than the de-facto situation.

      An Fhirinn an aghaidh an t'Saoghail. (The truth against the world.) Is treasa tuath na tighearna. (The common people are mightier than the lords.)

      by OllieGarkey on Wed Jun 19, 2013 at 04:34:22 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  You made me realize that I have no idea (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    concernedamerican, Catte Nappe

    what my sister does about her kids.  She's a professor (of Vatican history) at a university in Scotland but is an observant Jew.  Her kids are young but school aged; I'll have to ask her!

    "What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them"

    by ItsJessMe on Wed Jun 19, 2013 at 08:23:38 AM PDT

    •  Okay now that-- observant jew teaching Vatican (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ItsJessMe, Catte Nappe

      history in Scotland-- is interesting!!!!!

      That's one more thing to add to my long list of small problems. --my son, age 10

      by concernedamerican on Wed Jun 19, 2013 at 09:02:57 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yes! She has a really interesting (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        perspective and background!  Lived in Italy for several years as well.

        "What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them"

        by ItsJessMe on Wed Jun 19, 2013 at 09:04:39 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Aye Vey! (0+ / 0-)

          The natural instinct for people is to think that, for some reason, if you don't believe in something you can't know about it.

          Also, if you do know about something, you must believe in or at least like it.

          Sometimes it seems that no one has ever heard of books or of learning or curiosity.

          I think this is a much more serious problem then it first appears to be. It separates people into two classes: educated and uneducated, and neither seems to understand the other very well.

          A Southerner in Yankeeland

          To save your life read "Pity The Billionaire" by Thomas Frank, and "Winner-Take-All-Politics" by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson. Then read more books.

          by A Southerner in Yankeeland on Wed Jun 19, 2013 at 10:39:49 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

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