“Secular is whatever has reference to this life. Secular instruction is instruction respecting the concerns of this life. Secular subjects therefore are all subjects except religion. All the arts and sciences are secular knowledge. To say that secular means irreligious implies that all the arts and sciences are irreligious, and is very like saying that all professions except that of the law are illegal. There is a difference between irreligious and not religious, however it may suit the purposes of many persons to confound it. Now on the principles of religious freedom which we were led to believe that it was the purpose of this Association to accept, instruction on subjects not religious is as much the right of those who will not accept religious instruction as of those who will. To know the laws of the physical world, the properties of their own bodies and minds, the past history of their species, is as much a benefit to the Jew, the Mussulman, the Deist, the Atheist, as to the orthodox churchman ; and it is as iniquitous to withhold it from them. Education provided by the public must be education for all, and to be education for all it must be purely secular education.”
– John Stuart Mill, Speech on Secular Education (not delivered), 1849
My article on the proceedings of the Separation of Church and State School conference, hosted by the Humanist Society of Queensland on 13-14 October, appears on ABC’s Religion and Ethics portal today.
This article covers the key areas in which religion is intruding upon our secular public education system:
1. Religious Instruction classes
2. School chaplaincy
3. State funding for religious schools
4. Creationism in the science classroom
Horror stories abound – and not just from the parents who attended the conference. Significantly, senior representatives of the Queensland Teachers’ Union and the Australian Council of State School Organisations both made clear, public statements that their organisations are deeply concerned – for various reasons – about the dismantling of secular public education in Australia.
Adding weight to these arguments were Dr Cathy Byrne and Professor Marion Maddox – both researchers into religion and education in Australia. Maddox, I believe, has a book on this subject to be released in 2013.
Peter Harrison from the New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists provided a very helpful insight into how they’re tackling the problem of religion in schools ‘across the pond’.
And, of course, our own Ron Williams and Hugh Wilson of the Australian Secular Lobby spoke on behalf of the many, many parents who have contacted them – often in tears of frustration – over the vexatious issue of religion in schools.
A former Pentecostal pastor in the audience also added some very interesting tid-bits of information!
But it was a surprise speaker who left us all speechless with revelations about creationism being taught ‘as science’ in at least one Queensland school. After hearing her speak, I put up my hand to ask a question, opened my mouth and, I swear, words just wouldn’t come. I was in shock!
Read all about it on Religious and Ethics!
And, as a bonus for my readers, here’s a bit that didn’t make it into the R&E article.
Ron Williams noted that most of the letters the ASL receive from parents about religion in state schools tend to begin with “I am utterly speechless … ” or “I was gobsmacked to discover that …” . To illustrate, he told of just such a letter from an irate parent who received an email from their child’s science teacher during the school holidays. The teacher wanted to show excerpts from a video to the class in the first lesson after the holidays but, as it contained ‘references to the Bible and God’, she saw fit to ask for parental consent. If parents objected, she said, she could find their child ‘some other work for them to complete during this time’ (presumably sitting at the back of the class where the video was being shown!).
The science teacher explains that the video is Indescribable by Louie Giglio, an American Christian speaker “who uses amazing space facts, pictures and sounds to illustrate his points about our place in God’s universe” [my emphasis]. Apparently the ‘space content’ of the video was relevant to what the children were learning in their science class.
Here is a snippet from the video the science teacher proposed to show the students in a so-called secular state school. Be prepared to be appalled.
Don’t miss the bit at 5:06 where Louis tells students they wouldn’t have wanted to be there when God created the world – “You would not have wanted to be there the day He said, ‘Let there be light’,” says Louis, “because when He opened his mouth, light came flying out of the mouth of God traveling 186,000 miles a second – that’s the speed of light …”
Talking about God and the cosmos, Louis promises to ‘Blow. Your. Mind.’ Well, the idea of this stuff being shown in a science class in a secular public school blows my mind – what about yours?
If you find that ‘gobsmacking’, go to the R&E article and read just how bad it gets …
Dr Cathy Byrne is still collecting information for her Religion in Public Education research. If you are a teacher or a parent with a story to tell, please contact Cathy at firstname.lastname@example.org.