Can you make people worship?

Can you make people worship? And should you even try? In England and Wales the 1944 Education Act and the 1998 Education Act requires state schools to provide a daily act of collective worship of a broadly Christian nature.  (Parents may withdraw their children from this without giving a reason and over 16s may withdrew themselves). Government guidelines suggest just over half the worship should be Christian with the rest about other faiths.

Most (98%) primary schools do hold an act of collective worship within daily school assemblies. In secondary schools the legal requirement for daily collective worship is honoured more in the breach than the observance, with perhaps 80% not complying. The ComRes survey for BBC local radio recently found that 64% of the 500 parents questioned said their child did not attend daily collective worship in school. Of the 1,743 adults asked 60% said the leglislation should not be enforced. It seems that collective daily worship in schools is in decline and not considered important by many.

The British Humanist Society has long been compaigning for the abolition of this law. But many Christians and Muslims also think this requirement should go. For example Archdruid Eileen is a Christian who thinks:
"it may be time to scrap the whole misguided state-inculcated religion campaign in non-faith schools. It's unfair to teachers, who could gain an extra fifteen minutes scanning the Guardian job ads and eating biscuits. It merely innoculates children, who come to see low-grade drivel of a broadly deistic nature as what "religion" is all about. And I'm not sure what God gets out of it either."
Simon Barrow, co-director of Ekklesia commented a while ago that the ideas of compulsion and worship are mutually exclusive and
"...seeking to enforce prayers by law is offensive to the non-conformist Christian conscience, as well as to many of other faith traditions and to non-believers."Authentic acts of spiritual devotion are freely offered and freely entered into expressions of commitment. Making them a civic requirement is inappropriate and unhelpful, confusing the different responsibilities of specifically religious bodies on the one hand, and publicly-funded educational bodies open to people of all faiths and none on the other."The issue here is not about whether you are a believer or a non-believer of a certain kind. It is a matter of common commitment to freedom of belief. It should not be the role of the state to enforce or prohibit worship."
My view is that not doing it is better than doing it so badly that children are inoculated against Christian worship (or any other form) for life. But doing it well can provide children with an immensely rich experience which promotes children's spiritual, moral and social development, including understanding of other faiths. 'Collective worship' allows children of all faiths and none to come together for a time set aside for reflection. It is not 'corporate worship' where the expectation might be that all share the same beliefs and expect to engage fully with the prayers etc.

I'm grateful that the school I attended provided a high quality of daily worship, led by teachers who actually believed in what they were doing. This was not brain washing as we were also encouraged to think for ourselves and question everything, which I did. It was an oasis of calm, a time to be still and focus on something greater than But not all schools are like that and many teachers are put under pressure to lead worship without having a heart for it or indeed the skills and knowledge.

Should the law be changed? If so, how? Or should there be more encouragement (not co-ercion) for schools to fulfill their obligations? If so, what?

Image Credit: 3 Girls Praying from


  1. I heard something similar on Radio 4 this morning. I too attended assembly at school everyday from the age of 5 until I was 15.Then the Government at the time changed my Grammer School to a Comprehensive and "assembly" was a quick comment on something by our form teacher. Many schools these days are so large a whole school assembly is impracticable.I came to faith through daily prayers,when a teacher told me at the age of 6 ,that Jesus was listening. I was amazed and this simple statement started me out on my christian life.

  2. Thanks for your comment 'tootalburd'. I think most secondary schools and many primary schools are far too large for a whole school assembly. Interesting how your primary school teacher influenced you through her teaching about prayer.

  3. Very interesting. I went to a boarding school run by German and Irish Catholic nuns in the Himalayas. All Catholic girls had to go to Mass 5 times a week, Adoration and Benediction (worship services, choir practices etc. etc. I hated all that as a child and teenager, but now, find it has given me a good knowledge of scripture, and an thorough knowledge of the psalms and traditional hymns, which I know almost by heart. This has been a valuable resource in times of stress.
    So I do sometimes require that my own children go to church, even when they don't want to--though I am certainly not as forceful as those nuns were!!

  4. Thanks Anita. Interesting that the compulsory worship at your school has given you a valuable resource, even though you hated it at the time. I think part of the purpose of education is to provide resources for life. I hated maths at school but I'm grateful for having been made to do it, as the basics are useful tools for everyday life.


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