for Religious Education in Government Schools
During the 70’s and 80’s, Ministerial Committees of Inquiry in all Australian states investigated the place of religious education in government schools. Tasmania’s Overton Committee, Queensland’s Gutekunst Committee, SA’s Steinle Committee, Victoria’s Russell Committee & Report, NSW’s ICCRIS Committee and Rawlinson Report, and WA’s Mossenson Committee, and the Nott Report. Reforms were adopted into state legislations during the 1990’s. (WA legislation here, especially sections 66-71)
All concluded that:
1) Religious Education should be taught in public schools.
- Religions are a significant social and historical reality, and,
- In an increasingly multicultural world, knowledge and appreciative skills in this subject are increasingly needed to handle religious differences.
- Religious questions are asked by students, thus it is educationally valuable to introduce students to options for their own search
- Clarify that “secular education” does not mean removing RE from the curriculum, nor allowing secularism to be the default worldview. (“Secular” is used in a technical sense to mean education that is open to all regardless of creed.)
2) Ethical and educational constraints apply, to ensure the RE is accessible to everyone regardless of religious background. It should not proselytize, coerce, or promote any particular denomination. (OAC’s educational ethical commitment is here, and well within government contraints.)
3) Two categories of RE: General RE, and Special RE.
- General RE means facts in general about religions’ beliefs, practices, and social implications. Classroom teachers are supposed to teach this, but it is almost universally omitted.
- Special RE means presentations made by representatives of particular religions. They are still subject to the same educational and ethical constraints as GRE. SRE is expected to be instruction suitable for anyone, about that particular religion (not only for adherents of it), so students are only separated if a parent opts their child out of the subject.
Most states have had go-between organizations (such as ICCORIS, YouthCARE, ACCESS, SMG) serving the state government, schools, and religious presenters, by ensuring the educational and ethical constraints are properly applied. Religious seminar presenters have been accredited and monitored by these go-between organizations, and the system has worked well.
However, in 2014, Victoria’s government took back the accrediting process, accrediting only the go-between organisation, ACCESS. Then in 2015, religious education was removed completely from the school time curriculum, relegated to voluntary time only. This leaves students with no meaningful encounter with actual religions unless they actively work to seek it out. Secular humanism is now the only worldview presented in government school curricula, to the exclusion of all others.
Thankfully, other states’ schools maintain the importance of actually introducing students to other worldviews.