Government Committee on Religious Education
Starting in 1958, the Education Department in Victoria permitted the Council for Christian Education in Schools (CCES) to appoint chaplains to secondary schools. In early 1973, there were 30 such religious chaplains; 27 of them men and three of them women. Twenty-eight of the chaplains are ordained ministers, while eight of them have formal teacher training. Their salaries (approximately $5,200 per annum, including allowances) were financed by local committees who raised funds by voluntary contribution. Funds were also obtained via grants from the CCES and local municipal councils. The chaplains conducted classes that were integrated in the normal school timetable. In this way, Religious Instruction (RI) is less an obvious religious observance than when the whole school convenes for RI at the same time. In some cases, the chaplains’ class material tends towards a study of comparative religion.
During this period, if the Minister for Education had given prior approval for the formation of a class for RI other than the Agreed Syllabus, each parent of an enrolled child was given forms on which to indicate the parent’s preference. If the parents returned one of the forms indicating ‘Yes’, or if the forms were not returned within 14 days, their child was given RI by CCES accredited instructors. If one of the forms was returned with the answer ‘No’, the child was usually sent to a vacant room for a period of private study or sometimes permitted to do a housekeeping job around the school.
In 1972, the Victorian Minister for Education, the Hon. L. H. S. Thompson, initiated a Committee under the chairmanship of the former Deputy Director General of Education, W. B. Russell, to examine religious education in Government schools. The Humanist Society of Victoria (HSV) sought representation on the Committee. However, our offer was declined.
In 1973, three HSV representatives met the Committee personally to deliver the Humanist Society of Victoria submission on religious education. Our submission was summarised by the Committee and included in the final Report of the Committee on Religious Education (Russell Report).
After the Committee published its final report in September 1974, the Minister for Education sought public comment. In response, HSV wrote a draft letter to the Minister for Education opposing the Committee’s findings and sought an interview to discuss the matter. HSV was not granted an interview.