According to a Christian publication Victoria's Minister for Education has told a group of religious leaders his department "well and truly overreached" in changing guidelines to how religious instruction was to be delivered in state schools.
Australia's Bible Society reported that Martin Dixon told a gathering of 70 Christian leaders on Tuesday that he was "totally in support" of special religious instruction (SRI) in public schools.
The Government's guidelines, introduced in July this year in response to a report that found Access Ministries had distributed homophobic material at a Victorian school, banned outside religious organisations from holding prayer groups and giving out bibles in Victorian public schools.
The Government has since issued a new directive, winding back the changes.
In a statement to the ABC, Mr Dixon's spokesperson did not deny the Minister made the comments in support of SRI and defended the new directive.
At the meeting between the Minister and Christian leaders, Mr Dixon was reportedly asked whether Christian parents could apply to schools that have cancelled SRI to have it reinstated, to which he said he would "encourage families and parents to do that".This is a totally inappropriate thing for the Minister to say and when put into context with changes to school Governence it heralds a worrying intrusion into the secular nature of state government education.
The Government introduced a new form in term three, informing parents that SRI provided children with religious instruction in a specific religion, as opposed to a general education about the belief systems of different religions.
"Each particular SRI offering is instruction in one faith only, provided by a church or other religious group," the form stated.
"Given the religious nature of the program, the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development does not endorse program content used to deliver SRI by accredited volunteer instructors."
Since the form was introduced fewer parents had opted into the program, and more than 90 primary schools ceased to offer religious instruction classes. Glen Park hasn't had religious instruction since the 1990s. There are good reasons why parents are deciding to turn their backs on SRI in schools.
Fairness in Religions In Schools (FIRIS) campaign coordinator Lara Wood said she was shocked by the Minister's reported comments.
"FIRIS is surprised that the Minister would make a statement supporting SRI which implies that our public schools are deficient in providing the necessary values to its students," Ms Wood said.
She said the group was concerned Mr Dixon was putting the interests of religious groups above parents' concerns."We're disappointed that these groups seem to run the Minister's decisions of how he runs our schools," Ms Wood said."We're disappointed that he's not listening to what parents want, he's not listening to parents' groups, the people that he's there to serve."
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