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Atheist banned from committee on religious education
An atheist has spoken of his dismay after being sidelined from discussions on how religion is taught in schools.
Former teacher Andrew Edmondson attempted to win a place on the West Sussex County Council's advisory committee for religious education but was denied by a majority vote.
Mr Edmondson, a humanist, believes people can lead their lives without religion and use reason to explain the world and solve problems.
Despite giving a presentation on humanism to members they voted against allowing him a place on the committee.
Mr Edmondson, of Balcombe, said: "Despite the detailed presentation I gave them, they likened humanism to minority religions such as pagans and scientologists.
"They failed to understand that humanism is the voice of reason, necessary to balance supernatural beliefs. Our children should be given a choice in schools and not railroaded into believing one thing or another.
"It is appalling that children in West Sussex are not taught that there is an alternative to religion. There is nothing stopping any school from teaching non-religious views. Schools should surely try to encourage reason."
Mr Edmondson argued that a humanist representative on the committee would speak for the non-religious people of West Sussex. He said recent polls had shown 62 per cent of people preferred humanist explanations to religious ones and 65 per cent of young people, aged between 12 and 19, were atheist or agnostic.
He said: "This is a missed opportunity for West Sussex and is contrary to the Human Rights Act. Children have a right to learn non-religious views."
The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority recommends the inclusion of humanism in order to provide a broad and balanced curriculum.
Only two groups on the committee supported Mr Edmondson's application - the teachers and the Church of England which has a policy of inclusion.
Those who voted against included West Sussex County Council representatives, headteachers and minority religions.
British Humanist Association spokesman Andrew Copson said: "Humanists have made a significant contribution to religious education over the last few decades. It is sad that the West Sussex committee does not seem to have recognised this and has missed an opportunity to take an inclusive approach.
"If religious education is to be a meaningful subject for all then those whose values are not religious must be included."
Committee chairwoman Margaret Collins said: "Following a lengthy debate lasting three meetings including a presentation from Mr Edmondson the committee decided by a majority vote not to include a non-religious organisation within its membership."
A West Sussex County Council spokesman added that secondary schools already included humanist views in the curriculum.
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