Asher's written a really interesting post about religion in schools:
In the school assemblies, the whole school was to stand and recite the Lord’s prayer. This was lead by the head prefect - at the time I thought it was just a quirk, but now it seems that it may have been to get around the laws regarding prayer in schools. Additionally, we would sing one or two hymns, always of a Christian nature. In the year level assemblies neither of these occurred, but once every term or two we would be addressed by a “guest speaker” - a Christian who would discuss Jesus with us, and hand out free copies of the Christian Bible at the end of the assembly.I went to Wellington East, an all girls school just up the road from Wellington College. Unlike Wellington College it's not a rich school. But, like Wellington College, it had religious assemblies. We said the Lord's Prayer, and sang songs - which were hymns about half the time, sometimes there'd be a reading from the bible.
In the school assemblies, the pressure on all the students to recite the Lord’s prayer was intense. If you stood silent, the teachers would stare intensely at you, making sure you knew they disapproved. On a couple of occasions, I was actually confronted by teachers demanding to know why I wasn’t reciting the prayer with the rest of the school! In addition, the intense peer pressure that always exists at high school from the other students was ever present in this case.
I think the pressure put on Asher is apalling, but that wasn't my experience at all. I never felt any pressure to say the prayer, or sing hymns, sometimes I did - sometimes I didn't. There were no dirty looks from teachers - lots of teachers didn't say the prayers either.
Sometime in my fourth form I did get a dirty look, but it was from another student. You see I was sick of the fact that all the hymns constantly referred to God as 'he' - so I'd taken to changing around the pro-nouns around. Unfortunately my theology wasn't quite as advanced as my feminist principles and most of the songs turned out to be about Jesus rather than about God, so I'd be singing "and I'll lead you all, wherever you may be, and I'll lead you all in the dance said she."
A Christian girl sitting near me wasn't partciularly happy with that.
I think what happened to Asher at school was indefensible (although I do think that Wellington College is a terrible, no good, very bad, school, and wouldn't expect any better). But I'm not convinced the problem was just the religion.
We didn't just sing hymns at assembly at my school - we also sang songs. Since I was at school on the suffrage centenary we learned to sing the excellent Bread and Roses. It probably shouldn't surprise people that I have no problem with singing a socialist, feminist song, but other people might have.* I'm sure if people hadn't wanted to sing Bread and Roses that would have been fine, but I think it would be as bad to pressure kids to sing Bread and Roses as it would be to pressure them to sing The Lords Prayer (which I can still do). To say that the only place in school that kids should have a right to opt out is around religious ideas, seems to me to be problematic, and priviledging religious belief over other kinds of principles.
* Probably very few, at my school - but it's the principle of the thing.