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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ObJefHp_ljU
To sign the petition, you can follow either scan the image to the left or follow this link: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/gettinginvolved/petitions/religiousobservance
For the full PDF petition, you can follow this link: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/gettinginvolved/petitions/petitionPDF/PE01487.pdf
For the Press Release issued by Secular Scotland:http://secularscotland.org/ro-opt-in/
Local Article on Mark Gordon: http://www.inverclydenow.com/today/9598-local-dad-campaigns-for-change-in-school-religious-observance