From the Humanist Society of Victoria …
There are children in our primary schools today who suffer from religious discrimination. When religious instruction (or ‘RI’) comes up and parents exert their right of conscientious objection, there can be unintended consequences. Separation from their classmates during the RI period is handled like punishment in some schools, and sometimes it is compounded with victimization by other students. And the whole school is affected if a minority is singled out and excluded.
The Humanist Society of Victoria has collected many complaints from the public about the way RI (which is more commonly known as CRE) is being conducted. It has prepared a formal complaint on behalf of the aggrieved parents to the Victorian Equal Opportunity & Human Rights Commission.
The Society has written to State primary school councils, to inform them of the risk of adverse discrimination and to suggest ways of preventing it. Councils were reminded of the wide-spread misconception that schools were required by law to provide RI where it was available. On the contrary, councils are responsible for deciding whether RI is appropriate for their school. We recommend two alternatives: (1) the Humanist course of practical ethics, which is comparable to the
St. James Ethics Centre’s course in NSW; and (2) philosophical ethics taught by professional teachers, trained by Victorian Association for Philosophy in Schools.
RI is a problem also because it is delivered by volunteer instructors from outside the school, not by trained teachers. The system is poorly regulated and not clearly answerable to either schools or parents. Humanists contend that it is an imposition on impressionable children and lags way behind community attitudes and the needs of families in today’s multicultural society.
Concerned parents are encouraged to ask their school (1) to make RI participation a matter of opting-in, not opting-out, and (2) to schedule the RI class after normal school hours. Parents who wish to follow or join the forthcoming legal case can visit the Victorian Humanists’ website and write to the E-mail address, Religionsinschool@gmail.com.
Stephen Stuart, president
Update from Dan Kerr of the Victorian Humanists: Hey Chrys, well we have received so much traffic on the Victorian Humanists website that the servers could not cope. Please pass on this great news (it shows how much support we have) and please direct your readers to www.religionsinschool.com where they can sign up to a newsletter to be updated. And they can email us at email@example.com
Website: Religions in School
ABC News Report: Schools ‘discriminating’ against kids who opt out of religion
The Age: Backlash as God forced into schools
Note from Chrys: This is not just a Victorian problem. Issues with religious instruction are being raised by concerned parents across Australia. See, for instance, my blog posts on Religious Conversion by Stealth in NSW Schools and NSW Ethics Classes vs Scripture Classes: If Your Product’s a Dud, Jim, Don’t Blame the Competition.
If you are a parent with specific concerns about the teaching of RI/CRE/SRE in your children’s school, please contact:
Victoria – Religionsinschool@gmail.com (Victorian Humanists)
Other States – firstname.lastname@example.org (Australian Secular Lobby)
Both of these organisations are well equipped to provide you with advice, information and assistance.