THERE is no threat to religious instruction in Queensland state schools.
That is the assurance that has been given to a special committee tasked by Education Minister Kate Jones to deal with an unholy row over the teaching of Christian principles to primary schoolers.
A media storm erupted a fortnight ago, after a report in The Australian claimed talking about Jesus in the playground, exchanging Christmas cards and encouraging Christianity had been targeted under an unofficial policy from education bureaucrats
The Government’s Religious Instruction Quality Assurance Committee – which includes a highly experienced Catholic trainer – has been called in to examine the policy review.
The RIQAC has met once and already examined one education department redraft of the controversial review.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk also participated in a committee hook-up, giving members an undertaking that RI would continue.
The review in question is of the GodSpace religious instruction materials, completed in March 2017, which said RI instructors should be reminded that students “should not be encouraged to evangelise to other students at the school”.
“The department expects schools to take appropriate action if aware that students participating in RI are evangelising to students who do not,” the review reads.
“… This could adversely affect the school’s ability to provide a safe, supportive and inclusive environment for all students.”
Examples of evangelising cited in the review, as well as two earlier reviews into religious instruction providers, include sharing Christmas cards that refer to Jesus’ birth, creating Christmas tree decorations to give away and making beaded bracelets to give to friends “as a way of sharing the good news about Jesus”.
As the RIQAC oversees a redrafting of the policy review, a free-speech advocate has expressed alarm that children could be curbed from talking about Jesus in the playground.
The Centre for Independent Studies research fellow on religion and civil society Peter Kurti said he believed “children are being used as a frontline in a secular campaign by the Green Left in Australia to get religion out of the public square”.
“To make sure religion is a private exercise so it is not just that you can’t practise it freely, you can’t do anything with it in public that might impinge on other people,” he said.
Mr Kurti said there could be no justification for stopping students talking about Jesus or religion in the schoolyard.
“The idea that children have to be policed in what they talk about in the playground seems very odd – particularly if a child who goes to a religion lesson and then talks to a friend, or is asked by a friend, about what was learned in class,” he said.
“And if a child wants to talk about religion, about their beliefs, they should be allowed to do that, because freedom of religion doesn’t just mean the right to believe whatever you want, it’s about practising your religion, and that actually means being able to talk to other people about it.
“The idea that someone cannot be free to talk about whatever they want is an infringement on the right to freedom of speech.”