In a joint submission to be presented to the Scottish government today, the Church of Scotland and the Humanist Society Scotland call for Religious Observance in schools to be renamed ‘time for reflection’. They argue that this would ensure inclusive gatherings for pupils, instead of assemblies that promote one faith or belief system over others. This would also ease the concerns of parents over religious indoctrination, and give pupils an opportunity to explore different faiths. The organisations further point out that such a reformation would better reflect the diverse demographics of modern-day Scotland.

The submission comes as the Scottish government considers a petition from the Scottish Secular Society, which calls for making Religious Observance an opt-in activity. Currently, Scottish schools are required to organise Religious Observance at least six times in a school year, but the British Humanist Association reports that many hold them weekly and often with strong Christian themes. The law also allows chaplains and other faith leaders to take part in the planning and presentation of religious observance assemblies, even in non-denominational schools. In September last year, a debate over a creationist group’s involvement in chaplaincy at a Scottish primary school led to the removal of two head teachers.

Commenting on the cooperation of the Church and the Humanists, Douglas McLellan, chief executive of the Humanist Society Scotland, said: “We welcome the opportunity to work collaboratively with the Kirk. We urge the public petitions committee to make strong recommendations for the change of religious observance to ‘time for reflection’. Rev Sally Foster-Fulton, convener of the church and society council of the Church of Scotland, commented: "We welcome this exciting opportunity to collaborate with our humanist colleagues in supporting genuinely inclusive time for reflection in schools that supports the community and spiritual development of all pupils whatever their faith or belief.”

Not everyone welcomes reformed Religious Observance. On Monday, Rev David Robertson, minister of St Peter’s Free Church in Dundee and director of the Solas Centre for Public Christianity, denounced the time of reflection and the Church of Scotland’s involvement: “I sometimes wonder if the Monty Python scriptwriters are running the Church of Scotland – essentially they are helping godless secular humanism to be lifted to the status of state religion.”