Outrage as 'Christ' inserted into Australian national anthem

Adelaide, Australia - In a move that outraged parents' groups have labelled "disrespectful", some 50 Christian schools of mixed denominations in NSW have replaced the second verse of Advance Australia Fair at school assemblies with one that begins: "With Christ our head and cornerstone, We'll build our nation's might."

And it has removed any reference to the Southern Cross.

The contentious version was penned 23 years ago by Sri Lankan immigrant Ruth Ponniah, 75, as part of her local church's bicentennial celebrations.

Garry Le Duff, executive director of the South Australian arm of The Association of Independent Schools, which includes 95 schools across the state, said while he wasn't aware of any local schools adopting the controversial lyrics so far, there was nothing to stop them from doing so.

"It's a matter for the individual schools to determine," he said. "We don't have any authority to direct them either way."

Federal Education Minister Peter Garrett has admonished the unauthorised words, saying that under national protocols the anthem should not be modified and the alternative verse had no place in educational institutions regardless of their religious affiliations.

"Alternative words should not be used and schools should be teaching students to sing the two authorised verses," he said.

The Australian Parents Council, representing the parents of independent school students, wants Mr Garrett to go further and ban Ms Ponniah's lyrics.

"If you're singing the national anthem, it should be the national anthem you are singing," executive director Ian Dalton said.

"There are many opportunities to express pride in your faith, but the national anthem is not one of them. It shouldn't be tampered with."

Federation of Parents and Citizens' Association of NSW president Helen Walton said it was "disrespectful" of schools to endorse a different version of the anthem. "The national anthem is the national anthem of all Australians regardless of religion," she said.

Christian Schools Australia chief executive Stephen O'Doherty said: "Our schools sing it with gusto and I ... find it inspiring ... We encourage schools to sing this Christian response and to sing it loudly."