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.
On Thursday 18 August 2016, the office of Queensland Education Minister Kate Jones released a report on the review of materials used within Christian religious instruction at Queensland state schools. The report comprises twenty one pages, twenty of which contain esoteric theological debate relevant only to the approximately 30% of Queensland public school children legally eligible for placement into Christian religious instruction.
Across ten years of receiving many hundreds of complaints regarding religious instruction and chaplaincy from Queensland parents via The Fourth R, Humanist Society of Queensland, Australian Secular Lobby, Highcourtchallenge.com, Secular Public Education Lobby (SPEL), and now Secular Public Education, not one has been related to religious instruction lesson resources.
Leaving aside the sizeable proportion associated with NSCP chaplains, the overwhelming majority of complaints regarding religious instruction always concern children being placed into RI contrary to parents’ distinct instructions within the student enrolment application—and the traumatic, seemingly impossible task of having them extracted. Remaining complaints pertain to various matters including Christian prayers on assembly, creationism being taught in science and other classes, and unsolicited handouts of Bibles by the Gideons and Bible Society.
We are currently receiving complaints weekly, if not daily, from Queensland parents and caregivers who are at best frustrated—at worst severely distressed—regarding the above matters.
The matter of the ‘outdated’ or ‘inappropriate’ nature of religious instruction materials provided for an audience of Christian children—30% or less of the Queensland state school population—has provided Education Queensland with the reddest of herrings. A magnificent diversion of attention from serious human rights and legal rights abuses being suffered by a potential 600,000 (70%) children of undisclosed faith—or lack of faith—according to their enrolment application.
On 8 March 2016, we corresponded with Kate Jones seeking an urgent meeting regarding the ongoing and unacceptable flouting of religious instruction provisions within the Queensland Education (General Provisions) Act and Regulation 2006. Our request was rejected. The letter below graphically and disturbingly describes these circumstances, while referring to my close involvement with drafting of the current Education Queensland religious instruction policy statement in 2013.
We intend to engage our relevant charitable purposes—promoting or protecting human rights, and promoting or opposing a change to law, government policy or practice—in order to seek justice for potentially 600,000 state school children immediately ineligible for placement into religious instruction.
Secular Public Education Limited