Via the Queensland Government RTI (right to information) process, we recently acquired a breakdown of state-wide information regarding responses to the ‘Religion’ question within the state government application for student enrolment form. Having been extracted from the DET OneSchool electronic database in December 2016, the figures we received are extremely accurate.
The released statistics reveal that over 70% of state school students (approximately 360,000) are, by law, ineligible for placement into volunteer provided religious instruction. The majority of complaints we receive from Queensland parents are in regard to children being placed into religious instruction in blatant defiance of the same parents’ clear instructions provided within the student enrolment application document.
Throughout 2017 we will passionately protect the human, legal, and ethical rights of this sizeable majority proportion of the Queensland state school student population.
Since February 2013, our approaches—most capably assisted by the Queensland Council for Civil Liberties—to the Queensland privacy commissioner have resulted in important amendments to the original ‘Religion’ question rider which first appeared in late 2012. We remain unsatisfied with two aspects of the current enrolment application ‘Religion’ question: its mandatory nature, and the ‘leave blank’ option having been removed from previous versions. Our efforts to rectify these issues will continue throughout 2017, and will be more comprehensively detailed in a future post.
However, in spite of these concerns, in its current state the rider certainly provides a clear indication of the manner in which information supplied will guarantee either placement into religious instruction, or the provision of “other instruction in a separate location”. Positioned as it is within a signed and legally binding contract, the ‘Religion’ question rider provides ample information to assist a parent / caregiver in making an informed choice as to whether their child will be opted in, or opted out of any religious instruction at their public school.
The majority of complaints we receive from Queensland parents / caregivers are in regard to children being exposed to religious instruction in blatant defiance of the same parents’ and caregivers’ distinct instructions and wishes provided within the student enrolment application contract.
Beyond the student enrolment application ‘Religion’ question, no DET policy or process exists to place children into religious instruction, or exclude children from religious instruction. A disturbing, widespread, and ongoing trend at school level is the appearance of unofficial, uncontrolled, ad hoc ‘are you sure?’ or ‘one more try’ forms seeking a yes/no response to permit placement in religious instruction.
For various legal and ethical reasons, we regard this blatant disregard for the signed instructions provided by parents / caregivers within their student enrolment application contract to represent ‘coercion’ as described under Article 18.3 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Please feel free to report any occurrences of similar spurious documents to us by phone or email for possible future referral to the Australian Human Rights Commission. As is our policy, your anonymity will be strictly protected at all times unless you wish otherwise.
Having also been confronted with the stressful and frustrating injustices encountered while seeking freedom from religion at public schools, we fully understand that some dissatisfied parents / caregivers—particularly those enrolling their children for the first time—will be reluctant to place their concerns before the school principal lest they be branded as ‘troublemakers’. We will be honoured to assist and advise you while, as mentioned above, protecting your privacy. Should you wish to name your school, we can provide an accurate breakdown of eligible and non-eligible student numbers. At the same time, policy errors found at the school website and within parent handbooks etc. can be pointed out to the principal—again, while preserving your anonymity.
In the coming days we will distribute via social media a short instructional movie outlining the information above.