Atheist parents take primary school to court as they say assembly prayers 

Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily  Front Page newsletter and new  audio briefings. Atheist parents are taking their children’s primary school to the High Court, claiming that biblical re-enactments and praying in assembly are a breach of their human rights.  Lee Harris and his wife Lizanne have won permission to bring a judicial review against Oxford Diocesan Schools Trust (ODST) after arguing that Burford Primary School is acting “unlawfully”.They allege that since ODST took over the running of the community school in 2015, they noticed “harmful aspects of evangelism spreading into assembly” and other parts of their pupils’ education. In the first case of its kind, the parents are arguing that this interferes with their children’s right to receive an education “free from religious interference”.ODST is a multi-academy trust that runs 33 schools, all of which are Church of England bar four, including  Burford Primary, which are designated as non-religious “community schools”.  The trust says on its website that it “operates within the family of the Diocese of Oxford” adding: “We are motivated by our Christian values to serve our local communities, but we do not impose those values”.Humanists UK, which is supporting Mr and Mrs Harris, believe this will be a test case to challenge schools which hold a daily act of Christian worship without providing a suitable alternative for non-Christians. Parents are arguing that this interferes with their children's right to receive an education “free from religious interference” All church and community schools are required, by law, to provide a “daily act of collective worship”. Burford Primary holds a daily assembly for children which features “exclusively Christian prayer”, Mr and Mrs Harris say.They add that once a week there is a longer assembly which involves an external Christian group “dressing as biblical characters” and acting out Christian stories including the crucifixion. When they asked to withdraw their children, aged eight and ten, from the longer assembly, they were “left to play with an iPad” while a teaching assistant watched over them, according to the parents.By failing to provide an alternative that is of “equal educational worth”, the school has breached it public sector equality duty to have “due regard” to people’s beliefs and has also breached the children’s human right by denying them education.The school also holds various functions in a Church, including a harvest event and the Year Six leavers event, where every pupil is given a bible.Mr and Mrs Harris say that they do not want their children to attend these events, which leaves them “deprived of the benefit of what should be important elements of school and community life”. This amounts to another breach of equalities laws since their children are effectively being discriminated against, they argue. In a joint statement, they say the parents say are bringing the case “reluctantly”, but added that they “feel strongly that we need to try to make our children’s education as inclusive as possible”.Andrew Copson, chief executive of Humanists UK, said: “We are the only sovereign state in the world to require schools to hold daily Christian worship, yet 80 per cent of our young people and 75 per cent of people of parental age are not Christians.”He added that 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.Anne Davey, chief executive of ODST, said it is “not appropriate” to comment on legal proceedings while the case is ongoing.  “ODST is confident that Burford Primary School has acted entirely appropriately, and has followed statute in ways that are similar to all local or indeed national schools,” she said.  “It has provided exactly what the law requires, which includes provision for children to be withdrawn if parents so request.”  Burford Primary was judged to be “Good” in its most recent Ofsted report. Inspectors  said that pupils “speak with confidence about different faiths and cultures”, and added that pupils “have a keen sense of equalities and their work demonstrates a deep understanding of British Values”. Parents are arguing that this interferes with their children’s right to receive an education “free from religious interference” read more