A LOCAL student has made the shortlist for the Irwin Prize for Secularist of the Year.
Scott Moore, who attends Strabane Academy is now one of six candidates vying for the award, which is organised through the National Secular Society (NSS). Scott made the grade through his work with the Let Pupils Choose, a Northern Ireland Humanists campaign which aims to challenge compulsory worship and religious privilege in local schools.
The award, which comes with a £5000 prize, kindly donated by Dr Michael Irwin, recognises a campaigner or group for an outstanding contribution to the secularist movement. The winner will be announced at a gala event in London on 18 March – an event which Scott says he’s definitely attending.
“I’m very grateful to the NSS for recognising the work I and others have been doing,” Scott remarked. “Previously, secularism hasn’t been in the public consciousness in Northern Ireland. Equality for all in matters of belief; protection of religious freedom of young people; and parity of esteem for non-religious people in public life and under the law, have all been actively opposed by defenders of Christianity’s unjust privileges under the law – which rank it above other religious views and marginalise non-Christians.”
Nominated alongside some high calibre candidates, including two professors and a UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion, Scott says the word ‘secularism’, for too long, has been a dirty word.
He explained, “There hasn’t been a strong voice defending it, to explain it doesn’t mean banning religion, but religious freedom and equality for all people under the law – and separation of church and state. It’s a fact that Christianity is promoted in our schools above all other religious views – and that it’s used to justify policies affecting non-Christians. No other religious view enjoys privileges like that. None of this reflects a society where Christians, non-religious people and those of minority faiths are equal – and wanting change doesn’t make secularism anti-Christian.
“We have been campaigning to build the momentum for real religious equality. The Let Pupils Choose campaign wants to let over 16s/post-GCSE pupils opt out of collective worship without parental permission. Children of all ages are guaranteed religious freedom under UK, European and international human and children’s rights laws. This includes the right to choose your own religious views, and the right to not be forced to observe worship without consent. The law in the UK and beyond is crystal clear: Parents can’t overrule their child’s religious freedom. It’s law in England and Wales, and must become law here as a matter of imperative.”
He added, “It is a fantastic opportunity and I couldn’t be more thankful to the NSS for supporting my work. I’m more than happy to receive the recognition and the chance to attend the award ceremony by itself – but if I did win the money, I’d probably put it towards my tuition fees if I get into university, and to help cover any costs I might have as the campaign continues. Nothing too flashy.”