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19 July 2017

Public action influencing debate in Wales

Public action influencing debate in Wales

The pros and cons of religious assemblies in schools in Wales have been the subject of public discussion and media coverage in recent months but this time with a twist – the instigators of both sides of the debate have been teenage girls. 

In April this year, two 15-year old female students from a Welsh-language school in Cardiff launched a National Assembly for Wales petition, calling for legislation to be passed to remove the obligation for schools to hold acts of religious worship.  

In response, Iraj Irfan, a 13-year old Christian student from Cardiff whose family fled religious persecution 10 years ago in Pakistan, submitted a counter-petition, again using the National Assembly for Wales’ system. Iraj called for:  

“…the National Assembly for Wales to urge the Welsh government to keep religious assemblies in state schools in Wales as ‘opt-out’ and ‘wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character’, while considering ways to ensure that they continue to be relevant to people of different faiths and no faith.”

Iraj’s petition received almost twice the amount of signatures as the opposing petition, which ran for twice as long.  

The Petitions Committee discussed the petitions for the first time – deciding to consider them together – at their meeting on 27 June. In a somewhat surprising move, the chair proposed an action that the Committee write to the Education Secretary asking if she would consider a review of current guidelines.  

Iraj has been supported through the process by Jim Stewart, the Alliance’s public policy officer in Wales; she will be making a further submission to the Committee before it meets in September.  

The level of media interest in the petitions over the past two months has been striking, with the fact that young people have been passionate on this issue making it newsworthy. Although we cannot yet say that such engagement from young people will be a significant driver of public policy, it is perhaps a wake-up call for Christians to realise that there seems to be an increasing importance placed on young people speaking on issues which directly affect them. 

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In First Minister Carwyn Jones’ June announcement of the Welsh government’s programme for over the next year, he outlined his plan to consult on proposals over the next 12 months to remove the defence of reasonable chastisement with a view to introducing a ‘smacking ban’ bill during the following year. 

A campaign group, Be Reasonable, was launched earlier this year to oppose these changes in legislation. This month they launched a petition, asking people to sign it to show the extent of public discontent with the proposed changes. 

Although we respect that there are differing views on this issue, we share the concerns outlined by the Be Reasonable campaign and thus ask our members living in Wales who are over 16 years of age to visit the website and consider signing the petition, which can be found here.