The National Secular Lobby is warning voters that supporting the Liberal Opposition in the upcoming Victorian state election risks a return to religious instruction in state schools.
Last month, state Opposition leader Matthew Guy announced that if elected, his government would reintroduce religious instruction. National Secular Lobby ambassador Dr David Zyngier, a senior lecturer in education at Monash University, says his reaction to this election promise was sheer disbelief.
"I couldn’t believe it. In 2010, 124,000 students (39% of all students in primary public schools) were attending SRI in 876 schools (67% of all schools). When the Victorian education department made special religious instruction (SRI) an "opt-in" rather than an "opt-out", enrolments in SRI plunged 42%. It was clear that the majority of parents – and principals – didn't want valuable class time interrupted by amateurs, and that's how it should stay."
In 2015, the Labor government introduced an official curriculum alternative to SRI, the World Views curriculum, in which children learn about the range of major religions that make up Australia's multicultural community, together with secular humanism and ethics.
Dr Zyngier, a contributor to this new curriculum material, says this is taught by the children's own class teachers, as part of history, geography, civics and citizenship lessons.
"It teaches children about all the major religions and also highlight humanism and secularism and how our society has benefited from such ideas over time," he says.
In contrast, SRI was, he believes, a disruptive influence on children's education.
"It confused them, and separated children based on their religion – or lack of it – which was contrary to Australia's multicultural policies and practice."
"Clearly what's happened here is that Mr Guy has made promises to the Christian Lobby in exchange for their vote on November 24. I urge secular Victorians to send a very strong signal of their own at the ballot box – that they want to keep Christian evangelists away from our children and their schools."
National Secular Lobby
CORRECTION: The original version of this release stated that after SRI became opt-in, the number of schools offering SRI dropped by 61%. The correct statistic is that the number of students attending SRI dropped by 42%. We apologise for any confusion!