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No discrimination in religious education: Victoria

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Special religious instruction (SRI) in Victoria’s public schools was upheld by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) yesterday, when three parents lost their case claiming religious classes in state primary schools were discriminatory.

Sophie Aitken and two other parents argued that their children, who do not attend the voluntary religious classes, were being segregated from their classmates on the basis of religion and were not provided with adequate educational alternatives. They called for the religious instruction classes to be moved outside normal school hours.

However Judge Timothy Ginnane of the VCAT dismissed the case yesterday and found “the evidence did not establish that the children, who did not attend SRI at the three schools, were treated in any discriminatory manner.”

Ms Aitken told The Age she was disappointed with the decision, saying her non-Christian children are treated differently by not being offered proper instruction during time allocated for religious education. She has not decided if she will appeal the decision.

Access Ministries, which last year delivered Christian religious instruction to 117,933 students in over 800 primary schools across Victoria welcomed the decision.

“The strength of the Victorian legislation is that parents have the opportunity to decide whether their children attend SRI and have religious teaching or not,” said Access Ministries’ CEO, Evonne Paddison.

Parent-driven Victorian group Fairness in Religions in Schools, whose slogan is “state schools are not church playgrounds” responded on Facebook today: “Whilst this is not the result we had hoped for, it did not come as a great surprise. We will not let this setback affect our campaign, no matter how flat we may feel today. Many thanks to the parents courageous enough to take on the government and it’s archaic Act. Despite losing this initial stoush, we are grateful you have given us a reason to band together.”

Current legislation relating to Special Religious Instruction in the Victorian education system provides that school principals must arrange the provision of religious instruction during normal school hours where an accredited and approved instructor is available.

The legislation also outlines that students who do not choose to attend SRI are “appropriate supervised…and engaged in positive, independent learning…including revision or other activities, for example, community service, peer mentoring or instruction in areas outside the core curriculum.”

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