Are Christians Indoctrinating Children?

On 29th November 2019 a judicial review is scheduled at the High Court in England, as Lee and Lizanne Harris are challenging the Church of England over Christian school assemblies which they say are "indoctrinating" their children. Burford Primary School, the school the Harris’s children attend, is run by Oxford Diocesan Schools Trust. The case, which is supported by Humanists UK, is the first case on school worship to reach the High Court.

Are Christians Indoctrinating Children?

For many decades pupils in the UK have gathered for school assemblies with a Christian character. This is not surprising as the law, in England and Wales, calls for State schools to provide an act of daily worship which should be “of a broadly Christian character”. ODST asserts that the school has "acted entirely appropriately" and "It has provided exactly what the law requires, which includes provision for children to be withdrawn if parents so request."

Lee and Lizanne Harris are quoted as saying “"We take this step very reluctantly but feel strongly that we need to try to make our children's education as inclusive as possible."  At the High Court “They will raise concerns that during school assemblies, stories of God and Christianity were presented to children as fact, and that school leavers were presented with a Bible as a “guide to life” at a ceremony in a church. The couple also claim that it is inappropriate that officials from a nearby church, St John the Baptist, which is part of the evangelical wing of the Church of England, regularly led worship at school assemblies.”

The Harris case wants to ensure schools have to provide a meaningful alternative to collective worship that is of “equal educational worth” (link).

That a challenge to school assemblies having a Christian character has been mounted should not be a surprise to anyone. It is further evidence of the drive to marginalise and subjugate the Biblical teaching, to which the UK owes a great debt. Many of those who participate in school assemblies know that young children greatly benefit from, and enjoy, hearing about the works of people like William Wilberforce who, due to his Christian faith, fought for the abolition of the slave trade. The sacrificial lives of David Livingstone, Mary Slessor and Eric Liddell, who were all motivated by the supreme sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, can inform and inspire young children.

The basic teachings about a creator God allow those who attend assemblies to understand the dignity that each of us has and the respect that we should all show each other, as we are not a clump of cells formed by chance but were originally designed in the image of God. 

There is great value in having assemblies with a Christian character and it would be detrimental to the wellbeing of individuals if these were lost. Well presented and sensitively delivered assemblies are a blessing for children, as they can take time to reflect on the spiritual aspect of life.


One of the issues that displeased the plaintiffs was that the stories about God and Christianity were presented “as fact”. Although this was displeasing to them it will be pleasing to many as this is exactly what the Bible does teach. In the 1st century Peter could remind fellow believers of what he had seen and heard. His teaching was not a concoction of myths and speculations but was based on what he had witnessed.

"For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received from God the Father honour and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain."
2nd Peter 1 16-18 (NKJV)

By any reasonable method of establishing the factual accuracy of events some 2,000 years ago the story about Jesus Christ, as revealed in the Bible, is beyond dispute. If you deny the historical reliability of the Gospel accounts concerning the Lord Jesus then by logic you must deny the historicity, as contained in Tacitus’ History and Caesar’s Gallic Wars, of the Roman Empire. There are far more ancient and older copies of the gospel accounts than these two books yet no-one calls their validity into question.

What you do with the facts about the Lord Jesus is the responsibility of the individual. You may not like the facts but that does not change the fact that they are facts.


The word “indoctrinate” has come to mean causing someone to absorb and take on certain opinions or principles. Undoubtedly the word has acquired negative connotations, although it was originally positive and meant "to teach". It has become something of a “buzzword” that is used against an opponent even though the specific boundary between education and indoctrination is extremely unclear.

The distinction between indoctrination and education is perhaps best defined in that the indoctrinated person is not expected or encouraged to critically examine the teaching they have learned. Although I have not witnessed assemblies at Burford Primary School and thus cannot comment on what was communicated to the children. I would strongly urge any child, or adult, to rigorously examine any teaching that they have heard. True Christian teaching would always encourage the use of the mind to establish the truth and therefore cannot be regarded negatively as indoctrination. Although it is a faith, it is a reasonable faith that calls for an examination of the evidence.

"The distinction between indoctrination and education is perhaps best defined in that the indoctrinated person is not expected or encouraged to critically examine the teaching they have learned."

The example of early Christians in Berea is one to follow:

“These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.” (Acts 17:11)


Sadly, the opposition to Christian teaching is most commonly due to a lack of tolerance with respect to other views and a desire to indoctrinate children into a set of beliefs that eliminate fundamental Biblical truths. In circumstances like this it is the Humanist UK position that should also be thoroughly examined. One of their publications (Living Well by Richard Docwra) states, “Let us begin with a brutal fact. As far as we know, life has no specific meaning… There is no great purpose to why we are here.”  No wonder there is increasing despair amongst young children when such teaching is broadcast. Thankfully the gospel, contained within the Bible, does hold out a contradictory message of hope and joy for all who will receive it.


It is interesting to note that there is a call, from the parents and Humanists UK, for inclusivity. What this call actually means is an exclusion of Christian teaching that has served the UK so well for many centuries. Currently there is a provision for parents to withdraw their children from sex education and religious education but when it comes to LGBT content in sex education lessons Humanists UK campaigns for it be mandatory in sex education lessons to primary school pupils, with no right of withdrawal. The inconsistency is glaringly obvious but not surprising.

The demand for inclusivity sounds very noble but it is frequently used as a “Trojan horse” to promote ideologies and philosophies that are opposed to the Christian message. In this case the call to be inclusive means exactly the opposite. It is a demand to accept a certain line of thinking and to silence any dissent.


The ongoing assaults to eradicate the teaching of the Bible from the public sphere should not surprise any Christian, although it is always disappointing. When the usual terminology about “facts”, “indoctrination” and “inclusivity” are thrown around like confetti at an old-style wedding the Christian should be prepared to respond thoughtfully having considered what it actually being said.

Thankfully, we can trust in an all-powerful and all-wise God whose purposes cannot be thwarted. The Lord Jesus promised “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18b, KJV).

Let us pray that, for the sake of the children in this country, that the result of the upcoming court case will be favourable and that there will be increasing opportunities to proclaim God’s word to a needy country.