Religious education is unconstitutional in Australian public schools
Thursday April 15th 2010, 4:33 pm

The Australian Constitution has a church and state separation specification:

Chapter V, Section 116 – Commonwealth not to legislate in respect of religion

The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.

Religious education in Australian public schools unquestionably constitutes an ‘imposition of a religious observance,’ but state governments have regardless long mandated religious education classes.

The NSW Government under former premier Nathan Rees made a baby-step forward in removing this imposition by introducing a trial of secular ethics classes in public schools- and it got the religion industry running scared:

THE Anglican Archbishop of Sydney [Peter Jensen] has privately lobbied the Premier, Kristina Keneally, against the permanent introduction of secular ethics classes in public schools, saying they would jeopardise the future of religious education.

Jensen’s right- but religious education has no place in Australian public schools, at least not beyond curricula which describes the notion that religions are indeed practised by certain people in Australia. Unfortunately, public school RE classes treat religion as factual and Christianity as being the ‘right’ religion.

Archbishop Peter Jensen said Ms Keneally had promised the Anglican Church would have input into the trial, which would be subject to an independent review.

If the self-professed Catholic Keneally indeed made this promise, it is demonstrative of a deep conflict of interest. It would be wholly inappropriate to allow a religion to vet secular ethics classes, just as inappropriate as permitting Sydney Atheists to have input into scripture classes.

It’s time for religion to get out of public schools and for government to stop pouring public money into support of religious schools. There’s a place for religions in Australia- that’s in churches, synagogues, mosques, etc.

Public schools are where children should learn facts. Promotion of superstition should be relegated to the superfaerie fan clubs.


hat tip to @podblack, @drunkenmadman & @happysinger

7 Comments so far
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Religion shouldn’t be left out of curriculum all together. When students learn about different religious practices in an academic way, stereotypes are broken down and they become more tolerant individuals, prepared for global citizenship in the 21st century. As long as curricula reflect a variety of religious traditions and teachers don’t proselytize including lessons of religious diversity in schools can be valuable for Australia’s young people.

Comment by Tanenbaum 04.16.10 @ 5:57 am

I completely agree- and said precisely that in the post.

Kids should not be ignorant of religions, but they certainly should not suffer the choice of indoctrination or ostracism, which is the current situation. Kids whose parents opt them out of RE are often just put out of the room to twiddle their thumbs.

Comment by weez 04.16.10 @ 6:08 am

Personally I think that religious instruction should be provided to children “in their own time and place outside the school curriculum”. However, many people would rightly argue that religious instruction in State schools is a “freedom of choice” issue. Nevertheless, if parents feel very strongly about the matter, they will always have the option to enrol their children in secular religious schools. It certainly is a good idea, perhaps, to introduce into the curriculum (of secondary schools) an unbiased, factual and historical account of different religions. Perhaps students could be taught about the tenants of the “Big Four” religions, ie Catholicism, moderate Islam, Buddhism and Judaism. Hopefully, children will then learn of the SIMILARITIES that these religions hold and not focus on the DIFFERENCES. When children are educated about the religious beliefs of others, hopefully a new tolerance may develop. The more understanding we have of each other, the better. Intolerance is bred from fear and misunderstanding. The obvious educational faculty appropriate to present this topic would be within the Social Sciences but many State school teachers would never agree to yet ANOTHER addition to a curriculum that is already overloaded. Religious instructors could not be trusted to provide an impartial view … so there’s a real problem right there! Unfortunatley, in the current polarised climate, religious instruction can be a hotbed of controversy.

Comment by Kathy 05.11.10 @ 10:23 pm

Sadly the High Court decided that the Establishment Clause means that there is no separation of Church and State in Australia, despite the wording being almost identical to the US Establishment clause. This is why its legal to have government funding of religious indoctrination schools, while there are no alternative secular schools.

Its a hard slog to get this interpretation changed, as the High Court rarely reverse themselves.

Section 116 of the Australian Constitution

Comment by Ian 06.05.10 @ 1:03 pm

@Weez I have experienced that scenario first hand. Throughout primary school they had some weird church rep. come in to teach us Christianity a la their church. I didn’t want to go to those classes as I was left entirely unconvinced when every question I had regarding religion was coldly dismissed. As a result, my parents had me opt out, and as a result I was taken into a small room to play board games with the other opt-out students: a couple strange exclusive bretheren kids and a nice non-Christian girl from some Sth Asian country. It was pathetic. RE sure needs to be optional, and NOT an opt-out lesson in public schools.

Comment by Fred 08.01.10 @ 4:32 pm


If it is indeed against the constitution (which it obviously appears to be – my son has to sit out of his classroom so that religious ed can take place), then can people take it to the High Court?

Comment by Thomas 06.12.12 @ 11:33 pm

Ther High Court Challenge to Federally funded priests in public schools is here:

Comment by Ian 06.12.12 @ 11:53 pm

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