Blow. Your. Mind: religion in Australia’s ‘secular’ state schools

“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.

Faith in schools: The dismantling of Australia’s secular public education system

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 …

Faith in schools: the dismantling of Australia’s public education system

Chrys Stevenson

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

13 thoughts on “Blow. Your. Mind: religion in Australia’s ‘secular’ state schools

  1. Julia

    Indescribable orright.

    God is he.
    has a mouth
    is a show-off (this is why the Universe is so huge) [the emotional manipulator Louis evades his own reference to the probability of life on other planets].
    is a builder
    talks to “himself”

    So the teacher wants to show a picture of some stars to her students?
    Wants to teach them it would take 2,000+ years to count the stars in the Milky Way?

    So why not show them some of the hundreds of amazing the Hubble telescope pictures freely available on NASA’s site? Or a film from our own Australian CSIRO/Astronomy educational films?

  2. Tracey

    Chrys, I could not stomach to watch this. That this was presented in a state school is vomitous.

  3. roberttobin

    I lasted 1min 59 sec into that “Indescribable” video. I had to stop before I threw up my lunch. THAT IS CHILD ABUSE. That is inflicting the poison of the God Virus on the citizens of this country. IT MUST BE STOPPED NOW!

  4. Sarndra

    That so called ‘Science teacher’ really needs to be spoken to by her Headmaster & have it explained how inappropriate that video is is a secular school. Horrendous! A captive audience being taught that rubbish.

  5. palmboy

    Serious issues.
    All citizens – Christians, non-Christian people of faith, and non-believers – should be concerned when science is hijacked and used as a means of infiltrating the school system to preach.

    How would some Chaplains respond to a young person who is pregnant and considering an abortion, or thinks they might be gay? A Chaplain presenting only a Biblical option may be doing these youth a great injustice and adding to their mental health burden.

    Besides that, what are our taxes doing paying for religion to be promoted in state schools?
    If you want your kids to be taught religion at school – you send them to a church school.

    1. Tracey

      Absolutely, Palmboy, if people want their children to be inculcated with religious dogma, send them to religious schools or their churches. This propaganda should not be perpetrated in our secular state schools. It screws up lives. I know, been there, done that.

  6. Vance

    Any science teacher who thinks it’s necessary to show a Christian propaganda video in her classroom clearly has little, if any, understanding of the subject she’s supposed to be teaching.

  7. martabrysha

    This is horrifying. Every Australian should be outraged! That we have a federally funded chaplaincy program sickens me, that so called “science teachers” get away with peddling this drivel is criminal and as with all crime should be tried in our courts.

  8. Veronique

    What will always concern me is that uneducated but indoctrinated adults pretend they know more than anyone who has been able to keep his brain and mind away from religious indoctrination and study science as it is without the overlay of religious dogma.

    I hate that people like this dickhead can command a full auditorium and spruik a sales pitch to like minded people who have left critical thought and intelligence at the ticket office when they bought their entry ticket (that pays him and the hall rent) to listen to this trash.

    He is a Yank – so what is he doing in Australia spruiking this crap? Mind you we exported Ken Ham to America (sorry US) and he is on a roll of creationism. A real snake oil salesman is that one! Couldn’t make it in Queensland though.

    Keep this stuff out of Australian publicly funded state schools. Queensland is in the firing line but seemingly with some other states not far behind.

    One of the things I liked about Queensland schools about a decade ago was their willingness to institute a trial program of critical thinking that was monitored and researched and the effect of such teaching was measured years later in upper classes. The capacity to use critical thinking didn’t just go away. The kids who had been exposed to the trials were able to utilise the methodology (call it the Baloney Detector as Sagan did) in their approach to analysis.

    To my mind this was a great step forward – it happened in Clackmannanshire in Scotland with similar results – what stopped it? Did the churches play their hidden power mongering card??



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