Sixth form pupils in Welsh state schools may be allowed to opt out of Christian assemblies regardless of their parents’ wishes.
The plan is being proposed by the Welsh Assembly Government and has been dubbed a “betrayal of Welsh culture” by the Union of Welsh Independent Chapels.
Under current rules schools “must provide a daily act of collective worship which is broadly Christian” and parents have the right to withdraw their children if they wish.
In 2007 the law was changed to allow pupils aged over 16 in England to withdraw themselves from school assemblies regardless of their parents’ views.
Revd Edwin Counsell, education officer for the Church in Wales, said that trying to teach the importance of religion in today’s world without giving pupils an experience of worship was like trying to “teach biology without going into the laboratory”.
He is also concerned that the move will lead to peer pressure on teens not to attend assemblies.
He said: “This is a real issue. If you’re not careful you are branding collective worship as something you grow out of and in every sense it’s something you grow into.”
Mr Counsell was disappointed last year when the Assembly voted against giving children the automatic right of free transport to a faith school.
He said: “This is the second time when we have a [decision] emerging which impacts directly on what we are about as a faith community in Wales and the Assembly seems to be taking English legislation off the shelf.”
The Union of Welsh Independent Chapels said the Assembly Government was throwing “1,500 years of Welsh Christianity to the wind – at the very time when young people need a sound moral and spiritual dimension in their lives more than ever”.
The union’s general secretary, Dr Geraint Tudur, said: “Over the centuries, Christianity has been the bedrock of Welsh identity and morality.
“This is a secular attack on that Christianity – an act of betrayal by the assembly government. We urge assembly Education Minister Jane Hutt to reconsider.”
But the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales welcomed the move. Father John Owen, a spokesman for the church and chaplain of Cardiff University, said: “I have always thought that any form of compulsory worship was counter productive.
“I think it’s a personal decision and personally I have no problem with this.”