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Petition goes to education chief.

Byline: ABBIE WIGHTWICK Reporter

TWO schoolgirls who launched a petition demanding the removal of the obligation on state schools to hold religious acts of worship say they are delighted a committee of AMs will ask the Welsh Government to consider if school worship goes against human rights laws.

The Welsh Assembly petitions committee has agreed to write to the Education Secretary asking her to look into the matter.

Members meeting on Tuesday agreed to write to Kirsty Williams after considering the teenagers' petition, as well as another one launched in response asking for religious worship in schools to remain as it is.

Under English and Welsh law, an act of worship takes place at schools each day.

Rhiannon Shipton and Lily McAllister-Sutton, both 15 and pupils at Ysgol Glantaf in Cardiff, say they are not anti-religion but do not see why they, or other nonbelievers, should be forced to join in. They got 1,300 signatures for their petition which reads: "We call on the National Assembly for Wales to urge the Welsh Government to pass a law that removes the obligation on schools to hold acts of religious worship."

A second petition, launched in response by Iraj Irfan, got 2,231 signatures, demanding: "We call on the National Assembly for Wales to urge the Welsh Government to keep religious assemblies in state schools in Wales as 'opt-out' and 'wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character', while considering ways to ensure that they continue to be relevant to people of different faiths and no faith."

The committee was told that in response to both petitions Ms Williams has said rules regarding collective worship in state schools are laid down by law.

Members agreed to write to her asking for a review.

Committee member Neil McEvoy said: "It is really great to see young people engage in politics and taking an interest today in the public gallery. I think it is right to progress this [the teenagers'] petition."

Responsibility for the planning and delivery of acts of collective worship rests with individual schools and the law states that most acts of collective worship in each term should be "wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian nature".

Responding to Rhiannon and Lily's petition last month, the Welsh Government said: "Collective worship should be sensitive to the range of beliefs and non-beliefs held by pupils in the school and should give pupils the opportunity to worship, without encouraging them to do something that is against the teachings of their own religion or beliefs. Parents can request for their child to be withdrawn from collective worship and schools must agree to such requests in all circumstances."

Rhiannon and Lily said: "We are very pleased the committee has agreed to write to the Welsh Government to ask if consideration has been given to whether religious worship in schools is compatible with human rights law."

Last year the National Secular Society urged Kirsty Williams to repeal what it considers "outdated provisions regarding collective worship".

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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jun 29, 2017
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