The Rationalist Society of Australia has called for Australian governments to expressly commit to secular government education and take measures to stop enabling religious missionary activities in public schools.
In a submission to the federal government’s Review to Inform a Better and Fairer Education System, the RSA outlined how, for some time, Australian governments had allowed and orchestrated religious missionary activities in the government education system.
The review will inform the next National School Reform Agreement between the Commonwealth, States and Territories to lift student outcomes across Australian schools.
The submission listed a number of examples of such missionary activities, including the teaching of scripture during class time, the promotion of church-run camps, church-run programs for children such as Hillsong’s ‘Shine’ program, and the presence of religious chaplains or similar religious functionaries.
The RSA noted that not all states had an express commitment to ‘secular’ public education in their respective Education Act (or equivalent) and recommended that each jurisdiction insert one.
The submission also argued that special religious instruction (or “scripture”) should not be permitted during class time. If such programs were to be permitted, the RSA said jurisdictions should adopt Victoria’s opt-in, out-of-class-time model of special religious instruction.
“Governments should stop treating children as targets for religious indoctrination and proselytising in the classrooms of government schools. Precious learning time – especially in New South Wales and Queensland – should be given back to professional teachers,” it said.
The RSA also recommended that all student wellbeing and pastoral care workers be direct employees of schools (or education departments) rather than employees of third-party organisations.
Point 5 of the scope of the government review asked for public input on how the next agreement between governments could contribute to improving student mental health and wellbeing.
The RSA argued that, instead of funding the best-qualified professional people to support children, the federal government had, since 2007, chosen to fund the ideologically driven National School Chaplaincy Program (now called the National Student Wellbeing Program).
“This program has required staff employed in public schools have religious credentials and endorsement from churches,” the submission said.
“If Australian governments were serious about the wellbeing of school children, they would have chosen to fund programs that employ professionally trained people, regardless of religion, with appropriate qualifications in areas such as youth work, wellbeing, pastoral care – essentially, the ‘best person for the job’.”
The submission noted ongoing religious-based discrimination in the new National Student Wellbeing Program.
Si Gladman is Campaign & Communications Coordinator for the Rationalist Society of Australia. He also hosts ‘The Secular Agenda’ podcast.
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