Church call to end secular education

Victoria, Australia - The Uniting Church has called for an end to secular education in Victoria, saying the exclusion of religion from schools could lead to intolerance and disrespect in the community.

But the church has stressed its proposed abolition of secularism in state schools, made in a submission to a review of the state's education laws, is not about trying to promote any particular religion.

"People think that if you take away the secular, then somehow it becomes open-slather for proselytising . . . that's absolutely not what our paper is about," the Uniting Church's leader in Victoria, the Reverend Sue Gormann, said.

"(Religious education) just gives a comprehensive understanding of other faiths, particularly in an era we are in now, when in some ways ignorance about other faiths is not a good thing."

The question of whether the secular nature of government schools should be affirmed in legislation is part of the State Government's wide-ranging review of education and training laws. The Uniting Church's submission, prepared by its Commission for Mission, is in contrast to those by other Christian bodies, which say the secular principle of the government school system should remain.

The 1958 Education Act provides that "no teacher . . . shall give any instruction other than secular instruction in any state school building".

But the review's discussion paper notes it has always been accepted that recognised religious groups could use government school facilities to give religious instruction outside the core secular curriculum.

A spokesman for Education Minister Lynne Kosky said all submissions would be considered, but it was Ms Kosky's intention that new legislation would reflect and support the current practice of religious education.

Ms Gormann said some schools had excellent religious education programs, but it was "hit and miss" across the state and she would prefer to see religion incorporated into parts of the core curriculum.

"It's a way in which we can guarantee that young people will understand why people wear particular clothes or have a particular headscarf - because of their faith," she said.

"I think it's only going to make for a more tolerant society."

The church also argued that the exclusion of religion could be seen as a failure to follow a part of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which says parents should be able to ensure that the religious education of their children is in line with their own beliefs.

The Council for Christian Education in Schools, the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne and Christian Parent Controlled Schools in Victoria are backing the retention of the secular principle, where secular is understood to mean that government schools will not advocate any specific religion.

The Government plans to release an exposure draft in August. The legislation is expected to be introduced in Parliament before the end of the year.