Letter: to James Merlino from Rev Dr John Bodycomb

Meredith Doig / 26 January 2015

The following letter was prompted by our article in the Fairfax media on 16 Jan 2015. It’s from Rev. Dr John Bodycomb, an ordained minister of religion, former chaplain and university lecturer. It’s another example of the discomfort mainstream religionists have with “sectarian religious instruction.”

 January 21, 2015

The Hon James Merlino, MP,

Deputy Premier & Minister of Education,

Parliament House,


Copy to: The Hon Daniel Andrews, MP, Premier of Victoria


Dear Minister,

Re: Religion in State Schools

I write on this matter as one who might be expected to have a keen interest in the promulgation of Christian thought.  I have been an ordained (Protestant) minister of religion since 1956, and at 83 am in retirement.  My career has included parish work in Australia, the USA and NZ, teaching in four tertiary institutions and full-time chaplaincy with a university.  My post-graduate qualifications are in Ethics and Sociology; particularly the sociology of religion.

It is my view as an ethicist that SRI (Special Religious Instruction) has no place in the state education system – which is to be ‘free, compulsory and secular’.  My reasons for opposing the current system do not relate to its disruptive effect in a school day or its divisive effect in separating some children from others; these matters have been canvassed ad nauseam.  There are two main issues.

The first is one of religious integrity.  It is entirely inappropriate for a particular worldview (or religion) to be promulgated by arm of the state.  Indeed, the teaching of a faith with a view to inculcating that faith in students is a hangover from the Constantinian era, when church and state became wedded for common advantage.

The second main issue is one of educational integrity.   A properly rounded education must of necessity treat religion as a subject eminently worthy of attention.  Since the earliest times of homo sapiens, religion has been an enormously significant socio-cultural phenomenon.  To exclude study of religion(s) is as irresponsible educationally as excluding study of maths or music.

Accordingly, I have contended for almost fifty years for the removal of sectarian religious instruction and for the establishing of religious studies as a respectable academic discipline at both primary and secondary levels.

I strongly encourage you, sir, and your government to look favourably on such a change of policy.

With every good wish, I am

Yours sincerely,


John F Bodycomb

John BodycombRev. Dr John Bodycomb is a Melbourne-based minister of the Uniting Church in Australia. He retired in 1996 after forty years as parish minister, Christian educator, University Ecumenical Chaplain and former head of the Uniting Church’s Theological Hall in Melbourne. He was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for his promotion of religious freedom and to fostering ecumenism.

All the more reason.