Media Release – 27 March 2011

Religious discrimination in State primary schools

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 and 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 St James Ethics Centre’s course in NSW; and
  2. philosophical ethics taught by professional teachers, trained by the 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 to:

  1. make RI participation a matter of opting-in, not opting-out; and
  2. schedule the RI class after normal school hours.

For more information, contact Rosslyn Ives, President, Humanist Society of Victoria at victorianhumanist@gmail.com