CBRE Religious Education, the Law and the Courts in National and International Contexts -- Introduction

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Religious Education, the Law and the Courts in National and International Contexts

Virtual Special Issue Edition Editorial


It has long been recognised that education policy is generally a product and reflection of national cultural, economic, political and legal factors (see Bereday 1964). Here we focus exclusively on legal factors alone, as they have particular properties worthy of specific attention, through a Virtual Special Issue (VSI), which is also a call for papers for a Special Edition of new articles for 2022[1]. This Virtual Special Edition curates previously published articles from over eight decades, illustrating some perennial issues and challenges, both in the UK and internationally, and thereby acts as a catalyst for new scholarship and research for a later Special Edition. 

In the UK, the various Acts of 1870, 1944 and 1988 have been central in the creation and reform of religious education – in ways unlike any other curriculum subject. The courts have also been significant: most recently the arguments for including humanism in the subject have been bolstered by the Fox case. Around the world, in other countries, legislation and judicial judgements have impacted on what can be taught, such as the Scopes trial of 1925 in the US, prohibiting the teaching of evolution (Larson 1997), or the loi Ferry of 1882 in France, establishing the principle of laicité.

Moreover, legally binding international conventions such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which guarantee freedom of religion and the right to education in conformity with the parents' religious convictions, have considerable implications for religious education (Bråten 2013, Willaime 2007).  Furthermore, in recent years, issues related to religion and education have reached national and supranational courts (UNHRC 2004, ECtHR 2007a, b, 2010, 2014). These rulings not only prompted policy debate and changes in respective countries, but also stirred and informed domestic and academic debate over religious education more widely (Fokas 2019, Hendek 2019, Fancourt 2017).

This VSE takes stock of the past by presenting some of the research and scholarship on national and international legislation and court rulings in religious education that has previously been published in this journal (or its antecedent publications). The articles set out below were chosen by searching key words such as law, legislation, act and court and by scanning the articles which appeared after important legislation, such as the 1944 Education Act. Due to space limits, ten articles were chosen, from 1944 to the present, and were selected to illustrate both national and international legislation, including international court cases. The topics covered include new legislation around religious education, particularly syllabuses, syllabus-making, content and the opt-out clause. Articles focusing on school worship and faith and church schools were excluded. In what follows, here is a list and summary of the articles chosen for this VSE.

Abdurrahman Hendek and Nigel Fancourt


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