Australians can ‘no longer afford to be silent’ on religious interference in public schools, RSA Webinar told

Si Gladman / 29 July 2022

A grassroots mobilisation that embraces secularism is needed to counter increased religious interference in Australia’s public education system, the latest RSA Webinar has heard.

On Wednesday, Jack Galvin Waight, author of the new report, Teaching not preaching: Making our public schools secular, said pro-secular Australians could “no longer afford to be silent” on issues such as religious instruction programs and taxpayer-funded chaplaincy.

Mr Galvin Waight, the Regional Organiser for the New South Wales Teachers Federation, said removing programs such as Special Religious Education would not be easy but believed it would be possible with a groundswell of public support.

“The groundswell of public opinion against scripture and government funded-chaplaincy and religious schools I think needs to become a people-power movement. As always, grassroots community organisation is the key to success,” he said.

“As is framing the debate in our own terms. If we can achieve an understanding that secularism protects all faiths and is a framework for ensuring equality, then the question has to be asked: what actually is anti-secular? 

“And there are real shared values and understanding that inclusion is good for our society and that extremism is not. … embracing this secularism has never been so important.  We can no longer afford to be silent. We need to be really loud and proud about our secular beliefs.”

Mr Galvin Waight said the 2015 example of how the Victorian government removed scripture to be outside class time should give secular campaigners hope in states such as New South Wales and Queensland.

“In Victoria, activists mobilised parents, the media and (Teachers Federation) members took school-based actions to create what I’d call a perfect storm for change. If it can happen in Victoria, it can happen in other states.”

At a time of rapid decline in religious affiliation in the Census, he said that increased religious interference and funding for religious programs in public schools “hasn’t occurred by accident”.

“There’s a small but organised religious lobby that has really influenced our public life, institutions and policy,” he said.

“Fundamentalist religious groups in Australia are growing. They have an agenda and they’ve really taken an interest in public education. It’s time that we as a nation shed that taboo topic tag and take an interest in religion in schools. The time to reclaim the secular is now.”

In his report, Mr Galvin Waight recommended the Teachers Federation conduct a broad secular awareness campaign and another national  campaign opposing the school chaplaincy program.

In the webinar, he said parents also needed to be concerned about evangelical churches such as Hillsong getting access to public school children through controversial programs ‘Shine’ and ‘Strength’.

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Si Gladman is Campaigns & Communications Coordinator at the Rationalist Society of Australia. You can contact him at sigladman@rationalist.com.au or follow him on Twitter at @si_gladman

All the more reason.