Religious Discrimination in State Primary Schools

From the Humanist Society of Victoria …

There are children in our primary schools today who suffer from religious dis­crimi­nation. When religious instruction (or ‘RI’) comes up and parents exert their right of conscientious objection, there can be unintended conse­quences. Separation from their classmates during the RI period is handled like punishment in some schools, and sometimes it is compoun­ded with victimization by other students. And the whole school is affected if a minority is singled out and excluded.

The Humanist Society of Victoria has collected many complaints from the public about the way RI (which is more commonly known as CRE) is being conducted. It has prepared a formal complaint on behalf of the aggrieved parents to the Victorian Equal Opportunity & Human Rights Commission.

The Society has written to State primary school councils, to inform them of the risk of adverse discrimination and to suggest ways of preventing it. Councils were reminded of the wide-spread misconception that schools were required by law to provide RI where it was available. On the contrary, councils are responsible for deciding whether RI is appropriate for their school. We recommend two alternatives: (1) the Humanist course of practical ethics, which is comparable to the

From Golding, The Age

St. James Ethics Centre’s course in NSW; and (2) philosophical ethics taught by professional teachers, trained by Victorian Association for Philosophy in Schools.

RI is a problem also because it is delivered by volunteer instructors from outside the school, not by trained teachers. The system is poorly regulated and not clearly answerable to either schools or parents. Humanists contend that it is an imposition on impressionable children and lags way behind community attitudes and the needs of families in today’s multicultural society.

Concerned parents are encouraged to ask their school (1) to make RI participation a matter of opting-in, not opting-out, and (2) to schedule the RI class after normal school hours. Parents who wish to follow or join the forthcoming legal case can visit the Victorian Humanists’ website and write to the E-mail address,

Stephen Stuart, president

Update from Dan Kerr of the Victorian Humanists: Hey Chrys, well we have received so much traffic on the Victorian Humanists website that the servers could not cope. Please pass on this great news (it shows how much support we have) and please direct your readers to where they can sign up to a newsletter to be updated. And they can email us at

Website:  Religions in School

ABC News Report: Schools ‘discriminating’ against kids who opt out of religion

The Age: Backlash as God forced into schools

Note from Chrys: This is not just a Victorian problem.  Issues with religious instruction are being raised by concerned parents across Australia.  See, for instance, my blog posts on  Religious Conversion by Stealth in NSW Schools and NSW Ethics Classes vs Scripture Classes:  If Your Product’s a Dud, Jim, Don’t Blame the Competition.

If you are a parent with specific concerns about the teaching of RI/CRE/SRE in your children’s school, please contact:

Victoria – (Victorian Humanists)

Other States – (Australian Secular Lobby)

Both of these organisations are well equipped to provide you with advice, information and assistance.

Chrys Stevenson

2 thoughts on “Religious Discrimination in State Primary Schools

  1. Cardinal Sin

    Good story Chrys.

    Of course, what we really need is not another round of contentious ‘ethics’ introduced into schools, which will simply create yet more arguments, but, across the nation, a sweeping away of all such SRE, CRE, RE and RI (or whatever each state pretends they are) and a genuine effort to deal with both the toxicity of religions and whatever positive benefits might, (might not do) accrue to the broader community.

    We need, at the outset, a clear undertaking by all political parties, teacher unions, teacher-aide unions, peak parent bodies such as ACSSO and each of their affiliate state P&C bodies, the National Curriculum crew and each state/territory curriculum crew, to openly and honestly adopt a secular curriculum for use throughout the nation.

    It is simply not ‘in the national interest’ to have madcap groups teaching rubbish to the nation’s children.

    Parents who want their children to learn the Dinosaurs are 6000 years old and walked with man onto the Ark, can do so, in their own time, at home and in their churches.

    Pandering, in any way, to the religious groups by saying that ‘we’ll have a piece of that RI action too, thank you’ is a massive folly and will simply complicate matters in our generally very poorly run schools.

    We need not be forced to ‘tolerate’ this madness at all.

    Of course, only Constitutional change will cement an intelligent approach, and that has to occur at both the Commonwealth level and within each state and territory, where no such safeguards exist at the moment.

  2. Graeme Hanigan

    Despite claiming to have the personal guidance of an omniscience supernatural entity, some religious people seem to be incredibly ill informed. I refer to the common assertion that homosexuality is a ‘lifestyle choice’.
    Nothing could be further from the truth.

    We are all born into a range of physical, emotional and sexual attributes over which we have absolutely no control.
    Sexual orientation is not a lifestyle choice.

    Holding religious belief on the other hand is a lifestyle choice.
    Religious people choose to be religious.
    Some religious people also choose to be bigots.

    So why should one person who has control over their lifestyle choice, their religion, be given the right to discriminate against another person on the basis of an attribute over which they have no control, their sexual orientation?

    That seems very unfair to me?

    We are all born atheists, it is not a choice, it is the natural default position. So again why should someone who has made a lifestyle choice, to follow a religion, have the right to discriminate against another person on the basis of not having made that same choice?

    Further why should someone who has chosen to be religious have the privilege of tax-payer funding to promote their particular lifestyle choice in schools that are secular?

    That also seems very unfair to me?

    The obvious contradiction is if this supernatural entity is so omnipotent why then do the religious followers need such special treatment?


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