Time to strictly enforce Qld Education Act religious instruction provisions

For over a decade via various informal advocacy groups, and now Secular Public Education, we have endeavoured to protect the human rights and legal rights of Queensland state school students who are ineligible by statute for placement into religious instruction—as at December 2016, approximately 70% of the Queensland state school student population.

This has involved advocating for the rights of many hundreds of parents and children, considerable ongoing communication with Education Queensland at all levels via correspondence and telephone conversations, and a number of in-house advisory conferences with the department during 2013/14.

The primary sources of parental concern, and often distress, continue to be children being placed in volunteer provided religious instruction in defiance of clearly stated enrolment advice—and objections to the federally funded National School Chaplaincy Program operating as a fully functional evangelical Christian ministry within Queensland schools.

Since 2012, there has been one process, and one process only by which children are either placed in volunteer provided religious instruction during school hours, or provided with what the Queensland Education Act describes as “other instruction in a separate location”.

The sole legislated religious instruction opt-in / opt-out process is via the ‘Religion’ question within the Education Queensland Application for Student Enrolment form. This process accurately reflects religious instruction provisions in place within the Queensland Education Act since 1910.

In April 2017, the Application for Student Enrolment form ‘Religion’ question was amended to further clarify the religious instruction opt-in / opt-out process:

We believe that the current enrolment form ‘religion’ question, and accompanying statement, provides parents with a clear and informed choice as to whether their child will participate, or will not participate, in religious instruction.

Unfortunately, and all too regularly at school level, this legislated, practical, and informative religious instruction opt in / opt out process, continues to be ignored. It remains the case that a substantial proportion the 70% of RI ineligible students are being placed in religious instruction by default.

As described within the video above, not only are parents provided with little, or no vital information regarding their rights relating to the religious instruction placement process—they are often confronted with staggeringly incorrect information accompanied by unofficial, unauthorised forms and arrangements. Dissemination of false and misleading information is widespread, unacceptable, and we believe, in breach of the Queensland Education Act.

During our most recent communication with Education Queensland, we were informed that all parental complaints relating to religious instruction and chaplaincy must now be placed and resolved at school / district office level. This is a most unsatisfactory arrangement, and we urge parents to refer all relevant concerns directly to us.

The time is past due for the Director-General of the Department of Education and Training to strictly oversee enforcement of religious instruction provisions within the Queensland Education (General Provisions) Act 2006, and the Queensland Education (General Provisions) Regulation 2016. 

The widespread placement of vast numbers of children into religious instruction contrary to contractual enrolment form advice represents serious abuse of the same children’s human rights and legal rights. That the Director-General of the Department of Education and Training continues to burden state school principals with the momentous responsibility of upholding critical sections of the Queensland Education Act is irresponsible, inappropriate, and unfair.

Ron Williams

Managing Director

70% of Queensland state school children are ineligible, by law, for religious instruction placement

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.

Ron Williams

Managing Director

 

 

 

 

Education Queensland must cease pandering to the religious right

Education Queensland must cease pandering to the religious right

The bright-eyed image of young Tyrone Unsworth coupled with the circumstances surrounding his death evoke profound, indescribable sadness. We have no way of knowing if the presence of a Safe Schools program at Tyrone’s high school could have prevented his death.

All ‘controversy’ associated with the Safe Schools program has been entirely fabricated by the viciously homophobic Australian Christian Lobby—relentlessly assisted by News Limited. In mid-2015 the ACL’s intense hate-campaigning forced all Queensland schools participating in Safe Schools to remain unidentified at the coalition’s website—at the time, the only state to do so. To this day, Queensland schools running the program are subjected to a constant stream of abusive correspondence, emails and phone calls.

It is timely then that we re-post our correspondence of March 2016 to Queensland education minister Kate Jones. At the time, the request within our letter to meet with the minister received a one-line ‘too busy’ rejection.

Our correspondence described, and provided evidence of the ACL seeking the assistance of Education Queensland endorsed Christian religious instructors to undermine Safe Schools. Also provided were examples of a critical 2013 policy statement regarding LGBTI students which had subsequently, and hastily, been removed from the Education Queensland website.

It is disgraceful that Education Queensland, having been provided in March 2016 with these damning materials, can choose to ignore the ongoing malicious actions and bullying tactics of the Australian Christian Lobby while allowing homophobic Pentecostal and assorted other fringe protestant ACL-associated churches and cults free access to provide numerous quasi-evangelical ‘resilience’ and ‘relationships’ programs including Hillsong Shine, and Letitia Shelton’s (sister of Lyle) bizarre Bella Girl.

We call upon Education Queensland to cease pandering to the Australian Christian Lobby and the minister’s own covert band of religious-right ‘advisors’. We further request that the minister immediately reinstates: Policy statement: Supporting Same Sex Attracted, Intersex or Transgender Students at School as contained within our correspondence of March 2016.

Safe Schools must be allowed to operate proudly, freely, and without fear.

 

Ron Williams
Managing Director
Secular Public Education Limited

 

 

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Correspondence to Qld Education Minister Kate Jones 08 March 2016

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.

Ron Williams
Managing Director
Secular Public Education Limited

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