CHURCH members have struck back in a battle over religious assemblies in Edinburgh schools by lodging a petition for them to be protected.
Education chiefs will consider a petition from father-of-three Gary Bennett alongside an earlier submission calling for a vote on removing religious observance (RO) from non-denominational primary and secondary schools.
Mr Bennett, 43, said he had lodged his petition, which already has more than 1300 signatories, because he feels Christianity has too often been “pushed to the side”.
The fire engineer from Barnton said: “I submitted this petition because, while I recognise we are no longer a fully Christian society, Christianity is still at the root of our country and we have been marginalised too many times.”
Mr Bennett’s petition comes after mother-of-one Veronica Wikman, 48, lodged a submission urging councillors to vote on ejecting RO from classrooms. Her petition has just over 1000 signatures and was backed by leaders of the Edinburgh Secular Society (ESS), who said RO was little more than preaching and allowed evangelising groups to come into schools and indoctrinate pupils.
Mr Bennett, who attends his local Baptist church, said he agreed that imposing belief was “abhorrent” but insisted schools were “richer” because of RO.
“For me, if they go down the route of removing prayer and assemblies from schools, then you’re at the thin end of a wedge,” he said. “Do you then limit scripture groups and community workers, who could become really positive role models, and stop them from going into schools?
“And in terms of religious education, I think having prayer and bringing faith-based organisations into school provides a practical place where pupils can see faith being demonstrated – somewhere they can see it in the flesh.”
Mr Bennett’s petition was attacked as “knee-jerk” by secularists. Neil Barber, of the ESS, said: “Religious education, if taught without bias, rightly introduces children to different religious and philosophical ideas.
“We do not need additional RO, which is just preaching. We hope that people will understand the difference.”
Ms Wikman said: “I think there’s a direct parallel here with political indoctrination, which would be completely unacceptable in schools. Imagine someone from a political party came into a classroom and told children who to vote for and had them colouring in pictures of a political leader.
“I firmly believe we are in the majority and it’s now a matter of reaching out to and engaging the majority. Of course, I hope that we could have a campaign to do that.”
But Mr Bennett’s petition was welcomed by Church of Scotland leaders, who said RO could include faiths other than Christianity.
Sandy Fraser, convener of the Church’s education committee said: “The Church of Scotland supports the suggestion of the [Scottish Government] that schools should consider using descriptions such as ‘time for reflection’ rather than religious observance in schools to highlight the inclusive nature of these events.”
Council officials said they could not comment on a live petition.