New South Wales education minister Prue Car has ruled out any changes to the Special Religious Education (SRE) program, meaning children will continue to be segregated along religious lines and lose precious learning time in the state’s public schools.
At a budget estimates hearing this week, Minister Car – also the Deputy Premier – confirmed that the Minns Labor government would not follow the lead of Victoria and move the scripture program to outside class time.
The commitment to not reform SRE comes at a time when opposition to SRE is mounting among stakeholders in the public education sector and parents groups.
A new petition on the New South Wales Parliament website is calling for SRE to be moved outside class time because, it says, most children are left to do nothing while scripture – and the optional ethics program – takes place.
On Tuesday, Liberal Party MLC Rachel Merton asked Minister Car (pictured) whether the Labor government was “committed to ensuring special religious education is available at Government schools”, according to a parliament transcript.
“Yes,” replied Minister Car.
Ms Merton asked whether the government could “rule out” changes to the state Education Act 1990 in regard to SRE.
Minister Car again replied: “Yes.”
Ms Merton then noted that the Labor government in Victoria shifted scripture classes to lunchtime and out-of-school hours, and she asked if Minister Car would rule out something similar happening in New South Wales.
“Can I rule out changes to SRE in line with the Victorian changes? Yes,” said Minister Car.
The state Education Act requires public schools to allow time for optional faith-based SRE and Special Education in Ethics (SEE) by students who have parental consent. While religious missionaries take over the classroom to deliver scripture lessons, the other students must stop engaging in their normal curriculum and any formal school activities.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported in August that the number of students enrolled in SRE at some Sydney high schools had plummeted to less than 15 per cent.
In Victoria, the Andrews government’s decision to move scripture outside class hours has resulted in a 99 per cent drop in enrollments. Earlier this year, The Age reported that 93,000 students in public schools participated in the Special Religious Instruction program in 2013, but now only 1,000 did.
The Rationalist Society of Australia (RSA) reported earlier this year Minister Car’s shrugging of responsibility over the teaching of creationism in public schools as part of Christian SRE.
The RSA has also discovered Islamic SRE materials that teach children about “hellfire” and warn them to “obey Allah”, “choose your friends wisely” and not “compromise or change your identity”.
In recent weeks, Premier Chris Minns and a number of senior government members attended the launch of a new religious lobby that has evolved out of an existing group whose work focused on entrenching scripture classes in public schools.
Si Gladman is Campaigns & Communications Coordinator for the Rationalist Society of Australia. He also hosts ‘The Secular Agenda’ podcast.
Image: Prue Car (Facebook)