There is new law in Victoria that has come into force as at the 14th July 2014, that bans prayer groups and prayer, bible studies, religious clubs, and it seems an organised expression of Christianity in the states schools. The law states:
The new guide says that Student Initiated Activities (SRI):
Cannot and does not take the form of prayer groups, youth groups, clubs, information sessions, or workshops. Legislation requires that Government schools are secular, and the only exception to secular education in government schools is SRI delivered in accordance with the Act, MD141 and this policy.
Any other forums or activities as noted above, would constitute promotion of specific religions in schools outside SRI, and are not permitted. For the avoidance of doubt, students engaging in prayer in observation of their religion at lunchtimes is not SRI as there is no element of ‘instruction’. Such prayer cannot be led, conducted by or at the instruction of staff or parents/visitors/volunteers. For further advice please contact the Legal Division.
Principals must ensure that no religious programs, plays, events or activities run or conducted by any external religious organisations or individuals are offered or provided in government schools during school hours.
Principals must not permit material, whether associated with SRI or not, to be distributed or displayed at a Government school if that material has the effect of promoting any particular religious practice, denomination or sect. This includes the distribution of religious texts (eg Bibles) by any person or organisation whether accredited SRI providers or not.
When advertising events or activities in school newsletters or on school premises, principals should be mindful of the requirement in the Act that government schools must not promote any particular religious practice, denomination or sect
In The Age Newspaper on the 30th July 2014, there was the following article
Lunchtime prayer and bible study groups run by teachers or volunteers have been banned at state schools in Victoria under a ministerial directive.
The new policy has angered Christian groups who say it could be in breach of human rights and religious freedom.
The ban, which has taken many by surprise, came into effect on July 14, as part of changes to the controversial special religious instruction requirements.
New guidelines allowing principals to cease offering special religious instruction if there are insufficient resources, such as teachers or classrooms, have been widely publicised.
However the ministerial directive also states that lunchtime prayer groups and religious clubs cannot be conducted by staff, parents, visitors or volunteers.
This affects all state secondary schools, as well as primary schools, where special religious instruction is typically provided.
The directive says legislation requires that government schools are secular and special religious instruction is the only exception to this. The distribution of religious texts such as the Bible or Koran by any person is also prohibited.
Christian schools ministry Mustard used to hold lunchtime groups run by volunteers at nine Victorian state secondary schools.
However, Mustard was advised by the schools it could no longer conduct the groups under the policy changes this term.
“There has been disappointment across the board, definitely,” said Mustard director Tim Clare.
“We totally understand schools are secular – we are respectful of that environment. Our particular focus was to support students who have a faith.”
Peter Stevens, the Victoria state officer of Christian ministry FamilyVoice, called on Education Minister Martin Dixon to rescind the “unjust and unwarranted order”.
“We used to joke about US school prayer bans but now Australia is going down the same path,” he said.
“Freedom of speech and human rights are fundamental human rights in this state – but not, it seems, in our public schools.”
Pastor Stevens said FamilyVoice’s supporters would be “absolutely horrified” by the new guidelines.
“It’s not a total ban on religion but I believe the intent of it is heading that way. It’s just really come to light. I think we all read the information a month ago and didn’t take it seriously enough.”
A Victorian Education Department spokesman said students were free to bring religious materials to school.
Students could also form lunchtime religious clubs among themselves if permitted by the school but representatives from religious organisations or parents were not permitted to run them.
Teachers were also prohibited from taking religious instruction (this did not include teaching general religious education.)
Victorian director Dan Flynn said the Australian Christian Lobby believed the changes made to the special religious instruction policy eroded religious freedom.
“Students and teachers have the rights to freedom of religion and belief, freedom of expression and freedom of association under the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act,” he said.
“It is important that faith-based groups continue to be able to be invited to schools just like non-religious groups.”
Mr Flynn said the Education and Training Reform Act required education in government schools to be secular. “It does not mean that voluntary extra-curricular student groups and activities have to be secular,” he said. “Such groups can observe and promote particular religions.”
Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/anger-over-school-prayer-group-ban-20140730-zylr2.html#ixzz38vwwi5sA
The Make a Stand Organisation Website is quoted as observing the following (http://www.makeastand.org.au/campaign/more_information.php?campaign_id=60)
Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act & Equal Opportunity Act
This attempt to eliminate any expression of religion by students at school is contrary to the Charter which guarantees human rights including freedom of religion, freedom of association, freedom of expression and peaceful assembly to all people including school students.
The Charter states that it is unlawful for public authorities to act in a way which is inconsistent with a human right in the Charter.
The Minister for Education, Department of Education public servants and every school principal and teacher are separately public authorities and are obliged to comply with the Charter. This Direction and Policy will be of particular concern to principals who are being compelled by MD 141 and the policy to act in certain ways that are likely to be in breach of the Charter and the Equal Opportunity Act.
Section 14 of the Charter states:
Freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief
(1) Every person has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief, including—
(a) the freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his or her choice; and
(b) the freedom to demonstrate his or her religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching, either individually or as part of a community, in public or in private.
(2) A person must not be coerced or restrained in a way that limits his or her freedom to have or adopt a religion or belief in worship, observance, practice or teaching.
It is also likely that MD 141 and the policy are contrary to the Equal Opportunity Act which prohibits discrimination against a person, such as a student, on the basis of the person’s religious belief or activity.
The likely illegality of these aspects of MD 141 and the policy could result in expensive litigation against the State.
Change of Government Policy
The 1958 Act provided that “instruction in government schools must be secular” except for what is now called SRI.
But never before has that provision or the current one referring to education being secular been interpreted as applying to voluntary student groups.
It is not clear why the Department is adopting a completely unprecedented interpretation of this provision, contrary to years of established practice
I would encourage you to contact the Victorian Premier and express your concerns at this new law. Here are his contact details.
Office of the Premier
1 Treasury Place
(03) 9651 5000
(03) 9651 5054
Or email through this link
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