The Rationalist Society of Australia has called on the Queensland government to conduct a proper review of the Religious Instruction (RI) program, following intense media scrutiny of the controversial program.
The Courier-Mail has this week reported on how RI teachers from Citipointe Church West in Brisbane have, in a video published online, talked about using their access to public schools to “harvest hundreds (of children) for the Lord” and “disciple” them.
The RSA reported early last year about the video in which the comments were made and urged education minister Grace Grace to take action. At the time, however, she said there were “no plans to change” the RI arrangements.
In a new letter to Minister Grace yesterday, RSA president Dr Meredith Doig urged the state government to reconsider its position and to take the opportunity to conduct a proper review of the RI program with the view to making much-needed reforms.
In the letter, Dr Doig said that, like many people, the RSA was alarmed by the attitudes of Citipointe Church West missionaries towards the RI program.
Members of a #Brisbane church have been filmed speaking about using religious instruction in schools to “harvest” children and “disciple them” | Video https://t.co/ijah9kZD7V pic.twitter.com/PxXracNQ3f
— The Courier-Mail (@couriermail) March 1, 2023
She asked Minister Grace whether, in light of the latest media reporting, the government would initiate a review of RI – something that secular advocates in Queensland have long been calling for and have again called for in recent days.
“The RI program is a major disruption for school communities, privileging classroom access by religious missionaries over the learning needs of Queensland’s children. The program interrupts professional teachers and precious learning time and leaves a significant number of the state’s children having to find other non-curricular activities,” Dr Doig wrote.
“We believe the RI program should be treated as a genuine elective by moving it to out-of-class hours. This would still give parents the choice of enlisting their children in the program but would have the additional benefit of honouring the choices of other parents who do not want their children’s learning disrupted.”
In response to the Courier-Mail’s coverage of the issue, at least two state Labor MPs have voiced their concerns about RI on social media.
Corrine McMillan described the Citipointe missionaries’ behaviour as “disturbing” and said it was “enough to make you ask whether this church should be allowed to continue to be involved in religious instruction at state schools”. Don Brown said the video “sickened me to my core” and that “time is up” for RI.
In her letter, Dr Doig also asked Minister Grace to investigate whether RI materials promoting creationism are being used in Queensland schools.
Earlier this week, the RSA reported that a teaching manual that promotes the creationist myth was being used by Anglican instructors in the Special Religious Education (SRE) program in New South Wales.
The RSA understands that the same manual is also being used as part of the RI program – Queensland’s equivalent to SRE.
Dr Doig told Minister Grace that reform of the RI program would be widely welcomed by the public.
“Queensland Parents for Secular State Schools have said that tackling the RI issue would be ‘low-hanging fruit’. Your government has already pursued reforms relating to abortion rights and voluntary assisted dying – reforms consistently opposed by the more zealous religious lobbies but popular with the general public. We believe reform of RI would, similarly, be widely welcomed by the public,” she said.
“Faith formation should be left for families during family time. It shouldn’t be the role of public schools to facilitate volunteer missionaries coming into Queensland classrooms to ‘make disciples’.”