Wednesday, May 31, 2023

British Court: Humanist Eligible to Sit on Advisory Council for Religious Education

In R (on the Application of Bowen) v. Kent County Council, (EWHC (Admin), May 26, 2023), a British High Court justice rejected a ruling of the Kent Conty Council regarding who is eligible for appointment to an advisory body on religious education in the county's schools. The court explained:

Mr Bowen sought to be appointed to join Group A of the Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education (‘SACRE’) of Kent County Council (‘KCC’). Pursuant to section 390(4)(a) of the Education Act 1996 (‘the 1996 Act’) ..., Group A is required to be ‘a group of persons to represent such Christian denominations and other religions and denominations of such religions as, in the opinion of the authority, will appropriately reflect the principal religious traditions in the area.’ KCC refused to appoint Mr Bowen because, as a humanist, Mr Bowen does not represent ‘a religion or a denomination of a religion’....

 ... [T]he ability to be a representative of a particular relevant belief on a SACRE is (at the very least) more than tenuously connected with that core value, so as to bring the alleged discrimination through the prevention of membership of SACRE within the ambit of article 9 [of the European Convention on Human Rights]..

... [A] religious education curriculum must, in order to be compliant with the HRA [Human Rights Act] 1998, cover more than religious faith teaching. The content of religious education teaching must include, at least to some degree, the teaching of non-religious beliefs (such as humanism).... 

The court concluded in part:

Analysed properly, when looking at membership of a group the purpose of which is to advise upon the content of a religious education syllabus, it is obvious that all people who are holders of belief systems appropriate to be included within that syllabus are in an analogous position. It is in my view clearly discriminatory to exclude someone from SACRE Group A solely by reference to the fact that their belief, whilst appropriate to be included within the agreed syllabus for religious education, is a non-religious, rather than a religious, belief.

Law & Religion UK has a lengthier analysis of the decision.