SCOTTISH pupils in both Catholic and nondenominational schools are being "indoctrinated" into Christian beliefs against Government guidelines, campaigners have claimed.

The Humanist Society Scotland said the legal right of parents to withdraw their children from religious education and religious observance was being widely ignored across state schools.

The society, which campaigns for secular rights in education, also believes the Scottish Government's requirement for schools to offer a meaningful alternative to RE for those opting out is also not being delivered.

The issue has been highlighted in advance of Scotland's first conference on the issue, Affording Parity of Esteem, which takes place next month in Edinburgh.

Since 2005, Scottish schools have been required to make parents aware they can remove their children from religious education and observance.

Scotland is also becoming an increasingly secular society, with the 2001 census showing 28% of the population saying they had no religion and attendances at church on Sundays in long-term decline.

Clare Marsh, education officer for the Humanist Society Scotland, said: "We have heard from many parents who are not aware of their rights in this respect and those who are generally dis-appointed by the quality of alternative activity offered.

"We should be educating our children in the full spectrum of religious, philosophical and moral views and encouraging independence of thought by allowing them to make up their own minds. Currently, they are too often being indoctrinated with a particular belief system which doesn't represent modern Scotland."

In a call for greater prominence to be given to Darwinism and the theory of evolution in primary and secondary schools, Brian Boyd, director of the Tapestry Partnership and emeritus professor of education at Strathclyde University, said: "There should be subjects in primary looking at what it is to be human and why some people are involved in faiths, while others are not.

"These issues get skirted over and pupils could go through primary school and never hear about Darwinism or evolution and never challenge the acceptance of the existence of a God when at that stage they are perfectly capable of having these discussions.

"Young people don't get the chance to explore what they want to believe in and the curriculum at the moment is focused only on a Christian perspective with a nod in the direction of other world religions and nothing about humanism, atheism or other alternative philosophies."

However, Michael McGrath, of the Scottish Catholic Education Service, disputed the claims. He said: "Religious observance is a statutory part of the curriculum because successive Governments believe it is an important part of a young person's experience to develop spirituality."

Mr McGrath said the right for parents to opt out was included "in every school handbook in the country".

"For people to claim that is not the case is a bit disingenuous and I am not aware of any Catholic school where parents are not aware of that right," he said.

"In practice, what we often find is that non-Catholic pupils talk very positively about being included in the faith life of the school and participating is positive for all concerned."

A Church of Scotland spokesman said: "It is the responsibility of the headteacher to make parents aware of all aspects of the curriculum and how it may affect individual children. We hope religious observance courses in all schools are inclusive enough so that there would be very few occasions when a parent felt they should exercise the right of opt out."