HSV Submissions – Mmmmm 1974

Representation on Religious Education, 1972–74

Draft Letter sent dd Mmmm 1974 to Minister for Education

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 1974, the Minister for Education sought public comment. In response, HSV wrote a draft letter to the Minister opposing the Committee’s findings and sought an interview to discuss the matter. HSV was not granted an interview.

The following statement by HSV is on file.

Although the HSV agrees with the Russell Committee that the present antiquated and doctrinaire system of religious instruction in the Schools should be abolished, it believes that the proposed guidelines for the new course fall far short of the objectivity compatible with a modern educational system.

The course material cited in the Report still teaches at the primary school level certain doctrines which are controversial among the churches themselves and sets out certain devotional exercises whose purpose is to produce a conditioned response rather than stimulate the intellect.

In thus endorsing such material the committee has turned its back on a course on Ethics and Comparative Religion, which was submitted to it by the HSV during the course of its deliberations.

Indeed it went so far in the opposite direction as to demand that School chaplains currently financed by a private organization, namely the Council for Christian Education in Schools, be place on the State School payroll, and that the present instructors in dogmatic religion should be paid by the state. This would breach the principle that church and state should be separate.

In the opinion of the HSV only regularly trained school teachers are fit to teach controversial subjects within a state system.

In the context of the Russell Report it sees preservation of the right to opt out of Religious Instruction as vital.

Victorian state Schools are open to all students regardless of colour, class or creed. It is the right of these students to be informed about religion. It is also their right not to suffer indoctrination.

In the view of the HSV the implementation of the recommendations of the Report would lead to dogmatic religion being taught in government schools at the expense of the taxpayer.

Therefore we are opposed to the Report.

Read HSV’s detailed criticism of Russell Report (PDF)