Students from seven schools considered religion and its effect on the world at a conference that was the first of its kind in West Sussex.
The event at Chichester University’s Bognor campus yesterday was initiated by Angela Smith, who is head of RE at Bishop Luffa School in Chichester, RE consultant for the Chichester diocese and vice-chairman of West Sussex SACRE (Standing Advisory Council on Religion Education).
She drew on her connections to bring everyone together for the first West Sussex Youth SACRE Voice Conference, having witnessed the success of the Hampshire Youth SACRE in 2015.
Miss Smith said: “They were given an understanding of where we think religion will be in the future and the growth of religion.
“They were given the opportunity to consider the question ‘Would the world be a better place without religion?’ through workshops and discussion groups.
“Thinking about why it is an important question, and the different religious attitudes, was the aim.
“We hope they will take what they have learned back to their schools and that we can build on it in the future.”
The conference was led by year-ten students from three schools, Bishop Luffa plus St Andrew’s CE High School and Davison CE High School in Worthing.
Year-eight students from these schools were joined by others from Bourne Community College in Southbourne, The Regis School in Bognor, Felpham Community College and The Weald Community School in Billingshurst at the conference.
They reflected on the question in groups and were then each able to choose three workshops before returning to their core groups to consider whether their opinions had changed.
The eight speakers were humanist celebrant Kate Domaille, Roman Catholic Anne Barry, Quaker prison chaplain Paul Funnell, Detective Inspector Pete Dommett from the Prevent unit, Muslim Idris Nawab, Baha’i Meenou Jones, Buddhist Simon Ralfe and Church of England vicar Tony Oehring, who is chaplain at Ford Prison.
Jamie Singleton, 15, from St Andrew’s, was one of the students involved in organising the conference.
He said: “Over seven months, our school has been involved in this event and setting it up. It seems to have gone down well and people seem to have enjoyed it.
“Because people have been talking about personal experiences, it seems to have inspired people. We have learned a lot.”
To end the conference, a spokesman from each group gave a short round-up from their discussions, for and against.
Eden Murphy, 13, from Bishop Luffa, said: “Religion can be quite outdated in the modern world, for example the Bible can be homophobic, but it does a lot of charity work and brings people together.”
Oli Dixon, 13, from Bishop Luffa, said his group had spoken a lot about morals and war.
“Lots of war is because of religion but people will always find something else because people want power.”
Amber Heard, 13, from Felpham, said: “Religion brings people together from across the world. It creates groups that are stronger and stronger.”
George Eugene-Kelly, 13, from St Andrew’s, said: “Although religion might cause bad things because of extremists, it also gives good things because it means people lead better lives.”