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Religious bias and discrimination

By Zelda Bailey - posted Friday, 22 June 2007

The Humanist Society of Queensland (HSQ) has for many years been trying to get the Department of Education to allow the society to provide a secular Humanist program for its members’ children during the period for Religious Instruction (RI)in state schools.

The Queensland Education Act allows ministers of religion, or their representatives, to deliver programs of religious instruction to students whose parents have a religious affiliation. Parents who do not want their children to attend these classes may withdraw them from the RI program, and schools must provide these students with “other instruction in a separate location”.

RI, although mandated by educational legislation, is not part of the normal educational curriculum because it is not a teaching responsibility of any school - only religious organisations. RI is outside the normal provision of educational programs in state schools.


Therefore RI program content is not part of regular curriculum development, monitoring and assessment processes, since all RI programs are “owned” by the particular religious organisations which conduct classes in schools.

It should not be confused with objectively researched and professionally delivered programs such as “Study of Christian Values”, “Study of Jewish History” or “Comparative Systems of Belief” for classes of students from diverse backgrounds. Programs such as these, by definition, are part of the normal curriculum and thus outside RI.

HSQ has, for many years, lobbied the Queensland Government to repeal the clauses in the Education Act which permit this current travesty of “public education” to occur, but so far without success. In fact, the Queensland Government will not discuss removing this section.

As a result the Society took the fall back position of applying to the Department for approval to provide a “Study of Humanism” program to the children of our members and to the children of other parents who might choose it in preference to one of the religious offerings.

The reasons HSQ has for offering an educational (not instructional) program in schools are:

  • that no secular values and ethics program is provided by schools during this period; and
  • most students withdrawn from religious instruction by their parents are not dealt with correctly according to the law which specifies that they must “receive other instruction (sic) in a separate location”.

Despite the attention of the Department being repeatedly drawn to this breach of the Education Act students may simply be left outside the classroom or, at best, sent to the library. Often they are merely placed at the back of classroom where they can hear and see the RI lesson.

In the past, Education Queensland has refused the HSQ’s request for approval to provide a “Study of Humanism”, conducted by Humanist educators on the same terms and conditions for those conducting RI. In one of its recent communications Education Queensland pointed out that only programs of religion were permitted under the Act There is a definitive legal definition on what constitutes religion and a “religious belief requires belief in the supernatural”. Since Humanism is a philosophy of life “without supernaturalism” it was not acceptable under the Act.

During 2004, however, the Queensland Government began a process of community consultation for rewriting the Education Act that “is becoming dated and needs a comprehensive review to ensure that it reflects contemporary society and educational practice and is responsive to issues …” (Education Laws for the Future, Consultation Paper, October 2004)

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About the Author

Zelda Bailey is the President of the Humanist Society of Queensland.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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