JavaScript disabled. Please enable JavaScript to use My News, My Clippings, My Comments and user settings.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

Anger over school prayer group ban

The ban came into effect on July 14.

The ban came into effect on July 14. Photo: Steve Lunam

Lunchtime prayer and bible study groups run by teachers or volunteers have been banned at state schools in Victoria under a new education department policy.

The new policy has angered Christian groups who say it could be in breach of human rights and religious freedom.

The ban, which has taken many by surprise, came into effect on July 14, as part of changes to the controversial special religious instruction requirements.

New guidelines allowing principals to cease offering special religious instruction if there are insufficient resources, such as teachers or classrooms, have been widely publicised.

However the policy also states that lunchtime prayer groups and religious clubs  cannot be conducted by staff, parents, visitors or volunteers.

This affects all state secondary schools, as well as primary schools, where special religious instruction is typically provided.

The policy says legislation requires that government schools are secular and special religious instruction is the only exception to this. The distribution of religious texts such as the Bible or Koran by any person is also prohibited.

Christian schools ministry Mustard used to hold lunchtime groups run by volunteers at nine Victorian state secondary schools.

However, Mustard was advised by the schools it could no longer conduct the groups under the policy changes this term.

“There has been disappointment across the board, definitely,” said Mustard director Tim Clare.

“We totally understand schools are secular - we are respectful of that environment. Our particular focus was to support students who have a faith.”

Peter Stevens, the Victoria state officer of Christian ministry FamilyVoice, called on Education Minister Martin Dixon to rescind the “unjust and unwarranted order”.

“We used to joke about US school prayer bans but now Australia is going down the same path,” he said.

"Freedom of speech and human rights are fundamental human rights in this state - but not, it seems, in our public schools."

Pastor Stevens said FamilyVoice’s supporters would be “absolutely horrified” by the new guidelines.

“It’s not a total ban on religion but I believe the intent of it is heading that way. It’s just really come to light. I think we all read the information a month ago and didn’t take it seriously enough.”    

A Victorian Education Department spokesman said students were free to bring religious materials to school.

Students could also form lunchtime religious clubs among themselves if permitted by the school but representatives from religious organisations or parents were not permitted to run them.

Teachers were also prohibited from taking religious instruction (this did not include teaching general religious education.)

Victorian director Dan Flynn said the Australian Christian Lobby believed the changes made to the special religious instruction policy eroded religious freedom.

“Students and teachers have the rights to freedom of religion and belief, freedom of expression and freedom of association under the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act,” he said.

“It is important that faith-based groups continue to be able to be invited to schools just like non-religious groups.”

Mr Flynn said the Education and Training Reform Act required education in government schools to be secular. “It does not mean that voluntary extra-curricular student groups and activities have to be secular,” he said. “Such groups can observe and promote particular religions."   

For more education stories go to www.facebook.com/theageeducation

144 comments so far

  • I've no doubt that Mr Clare sincerely wants to support kids with faith, but why does this need to occur in the government school environment? There would be ample opportunity after school, in the evenings or weekends to provide such support.
    Mr Clare must know that these kinds of opportunities can, and have, been used by evangelical religious groups seeking disciples. Now that far fewer schools are taking up Special Religious Instruction, evangelical groups would be looking at other ways into state schools - and such lunchtime groups would be perfect for them.
    The Education Department has responsibility for kids during school hours and I think it is a wise policy to keep representatives of religious organisations out of schools.
    If students and their parents feel strongly about participation in these kinds of activities, they already have loads of choice outside school hours.

    Commenter
    Christine
    Date and time
    July 30, 2014, 9:28PM
    • Section 116 of the Australian Constitution guarantees all Australians the freedom to practice religion. 2 Referendums to change it have been defeated. Freedom to practice Religion is part of Australia's constitution and culture.. So why apply your unconstitutional beliefs in our schools?

      Commenter
      Kingstondude
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      July 31, 2014, 8:36AM
    • Totally agree.

      Commenter
      LJanes
      Date and time
      July 31, 2014, 8:45AM
    • wrong religion. If it would be Islamic religion everyone would be scare to band or say anything

      Commenter
      Mohamed
      Date and time
      July 31, 2014, 8:52AM
    • Correct - feel strongly about religion, use the time after school, weekends etc etc. I would not want to see missionaries in schools trying to push their beliefs onto vulnerable kids any more that I would want to see Islamic preachers in schools. We have enough issues without exposing kids to yet another source of potential organised friction. Teach kids how to be respectful, decent human beings - you don't need religion to do that.

      Commenter
      dexxter
      Location
      melbourne
      Date and time
      July 31, 2014, 8:58AM
    • You've obviously forgotten what it is like to be a student. It is at school that one feels most judged by those around. It is at school that support is required the most. Not at home when you have the support of your family. I wish I had the support offered to these students at school. I'd be a better person than I am today.

      Commenter
      mahollin
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      July 31, 2014, 9:27AM
    • Isn't it sad that at a time of rapid global changes, we have a government in Australia that believes that somehow hanging on to past practices and belief are going to produce a better society in future. And simply disregard what we have learned of human progress to date.

      For a start, a faith-based school chaplain program with the HOPE that many young Australian kids will live close to God's teachings. Well, evidence does not support this HOPE in the adult population.

      Not only that. Keven Donnelly, adviser to education minister, recently suggests caning a valid method of ... teaching young people.

      That reminds me of 'If you don't worship God, you will burn in hell for eternity', or 'If you don't stop crying, a monster is coming to get you'.

      Punishment as a form of behavioral enforcement or encouragement does not psychologically prove to have valid lasting values. Simply put, what wrong with it is it assumes people are incapable of independent thinking, i.e. SHEEP led by a shepherd. Religious leaders are unsurprisingly good at expanding this metaphor to a whole new level. (I know it starts going off topic but relevant to my point, so please allow me). To the extent that a priest COULD NOT be a pedophile for a priest is CHOSEN by GOD to be a HIS shepherd in the last several decades. And who knows how long before that.

      It defies logic and makes pain as the alternative to sound reasoning. It's the main reason many blind believers are subconsciously scared sh*t of spending an eternity in hell for leaving the faith.

      And so why some people still subscribe to this outdated concept beats me.

      Commenter
      A.Reader
      Date and time
      July 31, 2014, 9:37AM
    • Any wonder that people are pulling their kids out of the public education system and putting them in religious schools? The politically correct brigade have already managed to kill of Christmas in our schools, and now they're determined to kill off Christ and anything to do with Christianity or the west. You know, the very civilisation that has given us the basis for the life that we enjoy. Evil is everywhere around us, but exhibited to a chronic degree in the politically correct socialists.

      Commenter
      jed
      Date and time
      July 31, 2014, 12:00PM
    • Appears Mustard just didn't "cut the mustard".

      Commenter
      A country gal
      Date and time
      July 31, 2014, 1:16PM
    • i think this is a wonderful decision. Our children should not be indoctrinated at their place of education. School is for learning about real things - not fairy tales about Gods. Those things should be kept at home. Let the parents brainwash their own children - but leave mine alone.

      Commenter
      whatdoctor
      Location
      Lara
      Date and time
      July 31, 2014, 1:33PM

More comments

Make a comment

You are logged in as [Logout]

All information entered below may be published.

Error: Please enter your screen name.

Error: Your Screen Name must be less than 255 characters.

Error: Your Location must be less than 255 characters.

Error: Please enter your comment.

Error: Your Message must be less than 300 words.

Post to

You need to have read and accepted the Conditions of Use.

Thank you

Your comment has been submitted for approval.

Comments are moderated and are generally published if they are on-topic and not abusive.

Featured advertisers

Special offers

Credit card, savings and loan rates by Mozo