LONDON — Christian groups in England are being told to stop evangelizing children in government-run schools.
In a new report, the National Secular Society (NSS) said that Christian groups regularly use their access to public schools to preach the Gospel to pupils, and contended that the Department of Education needs to step in to stop them.
Steven Evans, NSS campaigns manager, asserted that Britain is a secular society, and that educational establishments need to take it seriously.
“Given the diminishing interest in religious observance amongst young people and their parents, it is easy to see whey evangelical groups are so keen to access schools,” he stated. “The presence of such groups undermines the rights of parents who rightly expect a state education for their child that doesn’t run counter to their own religious and philosophical convictions.”
The president of the NSS, Terry Sanderson, added that Christians had a “captive audience” in schools.
“The targeting of our schools in this way by such dubious organisations must be tackled by the Department for Education,” he said “Most parents have absolutely no idea that such groups are present in their children’s school until the child comes home and starts repeating messages they’ve been given.”
The report, which was published earlier this month, lists organisations such as Youth for Christ, Open the Book, Prayer Spaces and Scripture Union—among others—as the Christian groups that parents should be “deeply concerned about.” It also warns against Christian groups teaching creationism.
In an official statement, The Scripture Union said that they only were involved in schools where they were given consent.
“When our representatives work in schools they do so only at the invitation of head teachers and under their supervision,” the organisation wrote. “We share the view of the government, OFSTED and the National Association of Head Teachers that children have right to proper religious education as part of their spiritual, moral, social and cultural development.”
The Scripture Union also refuted the accusations by NSS saying:
“We do not believe that school is a proper place for evangelism. We reject any allegation that our workers engage in proselytising, or promoting ‘ultra-conservative ideas’ in the school context. We do not regard school children as ‘a captive audience,’ and we respect the statutory right of parents to withdraw their children from religious education. We believe that as part of a rounded education children should have a right to meet and question believers of all faiths and none.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Education told the BBC that if parents have issues with external visitors going to their children’s schools, they should officially complain.
“State schools cannot teach creationism as a scientific fact,” the unnamed spokesperson stated. “Schools have a responsibility under law to ensure children are insulated from political activity and campaigning. Ofsted inspections include a focus on this to enable them to identify any inappropriate practice.”
Currently, in the UK, Christian organisations are only allowed in schools by the express permission of head teachers and in compliance with statutory and non-statutory guidelines.