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Government clarifies new restrictions on religious activity in VIC state schools

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Camberwell Primary School

Camberwell Primary School, Melbourne

Victorian state school students will still be free to bring Bibles to school and form lunchtime groups at the permission of their schools, according to an Education Department spokesperson.

A Victorian Department of Education ministerial directive (Direction 141) released last week outlines new, narrower parameters of what religious activity is allowed, or not allowed in Victoria’s state schools.

Since it was announced, debate has raged about how to interpret the guidelines surrounding religious activities like prayer groups, Bible studies and giving away Bibles. The Directive is explicit about its ban on involvement or organisation of these activities by “staff or parents/visitors/volunteers”.

Eternity sought clarification from the Department on whether such a ban would extend to student-led religious activities also (see full statement at the bottom of this article).

In a statement, an Education Department spokesperson told Eternity that “freedom of religion, speech and association are important principles of our society, and are enshrined in the Education and Training Reform Act 2006.”

The spokesperson acknowledged that students in Victorian government schools come from many different backgrounds and follow a range of faiths.

“Students are free to bring religious materials and texts to school. Students may also form lunchtime religious clubs with other students with the permission of their schools.”

What is clear is that external religious organisations who are not administering Special Religious Instruction (SRI) will no longer be welcome at any Victorian state school, and those teaching SRI won’t be able to be involved in the school at all apart from their 30 minute teaching slot each week.

Further discussion may be required on how involved a Christian teacher working in a state school can be in student-run religious activities, which will come down to interpretation of “instruction” and “promotion”.

Read our coverage of the issue so far here.

Full Departmental Statement to Eternity:

Freedom of religion, speech and association are an important principles of our society, and are enshrined in the Education and Training Reform Act 2006. [sic]

* Students in Victorian government schools come from many different backgrounds and follow a range of different faiths.

* Students are free to bring religious materials and texts to school. Students may also form lunchtime religious clubs with other students with the permission of their schools.

* Under the Education and Training Reform Act 2006, the Ministerial Direction 141 and supporting policy, persons providing special religious instruction must be persons who are accredited representative of churches or other religious groups and who are approved by the Minister for Education for the purpose of delivering SRI.

* This means that outside SRI, other religious organisations are not permitted to facilitate any religious programs in government schools during school hours.

* The Act also prohibits government school teachers from providing religious instruction (this does not include general religious education) in any government school building, and clearly states that government schools must not promote any particular religious practice, denomination or sect. The Ministerial Direction and supporting policy clarifies this.

Feature image: Camberwell Primary School, Melbourne via on Flickr.

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