Nor is it sufficient to simply say that the worship shall not be distinctive of any particular religious group when, in practice, Christianity (and often fundamentalist interpretations of it) are the de facto norm.
The Education Act, as it stands, is an anachronism – a remnant of the theocratic and authoritarian nightmare of the British Empire at its might. It has no place in the 21st Century, here in Bermuda or anywhere else. School or teacher directed worship is inherently coercive and oppressive.
To be clear, SJB also now calls for an end to prayers being given over the Public Announcement system. For example, at one BPSS school, there are up to four prayers a day over the PA system, during which students are expected to stand at attention or disciplinary action. All such prayers are overtly Christian focused ‘in Jesus name’ and include the Lord’s Prayer.
These practices of forced religious worship are unacceptable in a 21st Century liberal democracy.
How is this a Social Justice Issue?
Social justice is about justice. This means fighting oppression everywhere and in all its forms.
Coercive collective worship in the BPSS is a social injustice disguised as tradition and celebrated as culture. It contributes to injustices against non-Christians, non-theists, and LGBTQ youth. Furthermore, this pattern of coercion contributes to learned behaviors of submission in later life which can help reinforce inequality and injustice.
Simply put, no student should be coerced into collective worship or face harassment, isolation and bullying as a result of such collective worship. Schools should be safe places for our children and this form of oppression, however cloaked, must be removed.
What about morals and ethics?
It is not necessary to coerce students into collective worship to teach students lessons about ethics and community. Formal worship is neither necessary nor conducive (when coerced) to spiritual, moral, social, and cultural development and inclusion.
In place of coercive collective worship, SJB Education Committee calls for Section 28 to be repealed and replaced with guidelines for inclusive community activities such as:
1. School Assemblies – A gathering of all or part of the school focused solely on communicating information and engage in themes relevant to the school community.
While assemblies may feature religious leaders as guests, the school should approach these as opportunities for students to learn about different religions, and as such the school should seek to have such figures only occasionally and ensure that those invited represent different religions and belief systems throughout the year – ie, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taosim, Secular Humanism, etc.