This article appears in the Witness section of the Autumn 2019 issue of the New Humanist. Subscribe today.

It is a strange quirk of the British education system that all schools in England, Wales and Northern Ireland must provide an act of daily worship of a “broadly Christian character”. This is a legal requirement set out in the 1944 Education Act that persists despite the fact that a majority of students and parents are not practising Christians.

Now, a couple from Oxfordshire are bringing a legal challenge. Lee and Lizanne Harris say their children are being religiously indoctrinated by Christian assemblies at the Burford primary school in Oxfordshire. When they enrolled at the school, it did not have a religious character, but in 2015 it became an academy and joined a Church of England schools trust. In a statement, the Harrises said: ‘When our children go to school they shouldn’t have to participate in Christian prayers, or watch biblical scenes such as the crucifixion being acted out.”

They withdrew their children from the assemblies, but claim that the school did not provide an alternative of equivalent educational worth. In their case, which will be heard at the High Court in November, they argue that the school must provide an inclusive assembly as a meaningful alternative for pupils withdrawn from Christian worship.

They are supported by Humanists UK. Chief executive Andrew Copson said: “Requiring children to participate in religious worship, and then marginalising them if in good conscience they cannot, ignores their right to freedom of religion or belief and is a negation of inclusion.”