De-register the ACL!

The Victorian Secular Lobby has started a petition on to de-register the Australian Christian Lobby as a charity.

  • We call upon the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission to de-register the Australian Christian Lobby as a charity, thus receiving special benefits from taxpayers. The group, as the name makes clear, is a lobby group that does not engage in any charitable activity in the accepted sense of the word.
  • The Governance Standards of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission states that activities must be non-profit and must be for the public benefit. In raising funds for Israel Folou, we believe that the ACL has acted for a private benefit, and not in a charitable manner. Israel Folou was sacked by administrators of Rugby Australia (RA) for breaching his employment contract.
  • Further, we call upon the Australian Federal government to remove the clause of the Charities Act which allows for "Advancing Religion" as sufficient reason for an organization to receive charitable status. Religious organizations who wish to be recognized as charities must engage in the same charitable activities as non-religious organizations (e.g., advance health, education, welfare, human rights, animal welfare etc). No special benefits or restrictions should apply to an organization because of their religious belief.
  • We also encourage individuals to raise concerns directly to the ACNC with the behaviour of the ACL to try to use the "advancing religion" clause for a private, non-charitable, benefit.

About The Victorian Secular Lobby

what secularism means
Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects? .
James Madison, Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments, 20 June 1785

The word 'secular' comes the Medieval Latin "secularis", meaning worldly or temporal in distinction to the eternal. It pertains to the world that we all live in and share, in space and time. In George Holyoake's coining of the term, he noted that secularism wasn't an argument against religious beliefs, but an argument independent of it. "Secular knowledge is manifestly that kind of knowledge which is founded in this life, which relates to the conduct of this life, conduces to the welfare of this life, and is capable of being tested by the experience of this life."

It is not, as commonly assumed, anti-religious, rather it is non-religious. A secular position is to have 'no comment' to make on religion. In terms of the state, a secular position argues for a clear separation of church and state. Religious people, particularly those who are respectful of other faiths, and wish to avoid state-sanctioned bigotry, can also be secular in this manner. Thus one can indeed be a secular Christian, a secular Buddhist, a secular Muslim etc.

The Victorian Secular Lobby is open to all people who support our principles:

1. To promote the principle of the separation of Church and State and equality for all institutions under the law.
2. To resource and promote secular principles to journalists, politicians, and other contributors to public opinion.
3. To encourage co-ordination with like-minded groups to influence public policy.
4. To encourage persons to take up membership and engage in activities that promote secular principles and the Victorian Secular Lobby.
5. To engage in activities, including generating income and expenditure, to further these aims.

Our policies are also available for review.

News reports on this site compiled from the Proxima Thule Press Extracts Service. The Victorian Secular Lobby is a member of the Secular Coalition of Australia.

The Victorian Secular Lobby's contact details are:

POB 15
Carlton South
Victoria, 3053
public AT victoriansecular DOT org

The Victorian Secular Lobby is incorporated in the State of Victoria, Number A00594400A

Victoria opens the way for secular or atheist school chaplains

The Victorian government has conceded that school chaplains can be of “any faith or no faith” as part of a settlement to a landmark legal challenge that could open the way to secular or atheist chaplains.

In order to settle a case arguing the program is discriminatory, Victoria agreed on Monday to change the position description. It’s a move the Rationalist Society and the academic Luke Beck believe will force providers to hire atheists and allow religious groups to endorse atheists.

But the Victorian education disputed that its practices had changed.

“It simply reflects what already occurs,” a spokesman said, because secular chaplains could already be endorsed by religious bodies.

The commonwealth-funded program currently requires chaplains to be recognised or endorsed by a religious institution, despite the fact pastoral care is only supposed to provide “general spiritual and personal advice”, without crossing the line to proselytisation.

The program has faced numerous complaints about its religious nature, which has been wound back through the Australian Capital Territory’s pledge to remove chaplains from public schools and federal Labor’s policy to allow schools to pick a secular chaplain instead of a religious one.

Discrimination bill could lead to challenges to school chaplains program
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In the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal challenge, Juliette Armstrong – who works as a school chaplain in both public and Christian schools, despite not being a Christian – argued the government and Access Ministries discriminated against her because of her lack of religion.

The Victorian government has agreed to change the position description to state that chaplains may be “of any faith or of no faith”. It will also retract statements that it is acceptable for chaplaincy providers to make hiring decisions based on job applicants’ religious affiliations, replacing it with the statement: “It is possible for a chaplain who does not have a religious affiliation to be endorsed by a religious organisation.”

Beck, an associate professor at Monash University, believes the changes are legally enforceable because chaplaincy providers are contractually obliged to comply with the position description, meaning there could be further litigation if chaplaincy providers refuse to hire atheists.

Dr Meredith Doig, the president of the Rationalist Society, told Guardian Australia it planned to approach religious organisations such as Anglican and Uniting church ministers to provide letters of endorsement to allow qualified, secular pastoral care workers to be hired and still comply with federal rules.

Access Ministries has settled the case, in return for issuing a statement that it believed “only a person with a personal commitment to Christian faith and values is able to carry out that work as an Access chaplain”.

A spokesman confirmed that term of the settlement, adding its employment practices “have been – and continue to be – in adherence with Victoria’s Equal Opportunity Act”.

The other terms of the settlement were confidential and Beck and the Rationalist Society – who supported the challenge – declined to answer questions about whether Armstrong was paid compensation.

Armstrong told Guardian Australia she was “glad that the Victorian government accepts that anyone who is qualified should be eligible to be a school chaplain, regardless of their religion,” adding that “religious discrimination is wrong”.

School chaplain program's $247m budget extension rejected by teachers' union
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Doig said she was “delighted” by the outcome, calling it a “step in the right direction” but calling on other states and territories to follow Victoria’s lead.

“There is no reason their important work cannot be done by suitably qualified, trained and supported youth welfare workers,” she said.

“The Rationalist Society will be carefully monitoring the actions of Access Ministries and other faith-based agencies to ensure they comply with the Victorian government’s now non-discriminatory policy.”

The Victorian government has already pledged a “mental health worker” in every government secondary school, a policy which supplements but does not displace chaplains. In February, the federal shadow education minister, Tanya Plibersek, promised Labor will give schools the choice of a chaplain or secular social worker.

Doig welcomed Labor’s policy but said it was “not enough” because millions of dollars had already been given to faith-based agencies that recruit and train chaplains.

“[Youth welfare workers] should be employed by education departments or directly by schools,” she said.

In the 2018 budget the Coalition gave $247m over four years to extend the controversial program.

The departmental spokesman said the changes “do not contradict” the chaplaincy agreement signed by the commonwealth, states and territories.

Call for multi-faith ceremony to replace Lord's Prayer during opening of Victorian Parliament

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has flagged opening Parliament with a multi-faith ceremony instead of the Lord's Prayer.

Religions observed by state MPs include Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Hinduism.

At the start of every day, the Speaker and President lead the Lord's Prayer in the Upper House and Lower House.

Greens MPs wait outside for the prayer to finish before taking their seats and have long advocated for change.

Crossbench Reason Party MP Fiona Patten has also been calling for change, saying the Acknowledgement of Country should open parliament every day.

Ms Patten's renewed push this week comes as she faces pressure over her support for the Government's extension of tolls on CityLink by 10 years.

On Wednesday, the State Government referred the Lord's Prayer to the procedures committee for review.

"This is a secular society and most religious people I speak to are surprised to find out that this is how we start every day here," Ms Patten said.

"Removing the Lord's Prayer is a nod to how diverse the Victorian Parliament is."

"The Government has agreed to look at how we can change the way we run the parliament and do something different to the Lord's Prayer that reflects the diversity of the community we're here to represent."

Lord's Prayer recited for a century
The Premier said he was open to the idea if it had widespread support and would be welcoming of other religions.

"If it were a multi-faith moment if you like, at the beginning of the parliament day, perhaps that would be more reflective of what modern Victoria looks like," Mr Andrews said.

But the Premier said it was also important to conserve some traditions.

State Parliament has opened each sitting day with the Lord's Prayer for the past 100 years, but in recent years has also included an acknowledgement of traditional owners, which Liberal MP Bernie Finn has refused to stand for.

The Opposition does not support any change, Upper House Liberal leader David Davis said.

"It's a very important part of our history, it's a very important reflection of the Judeo-Christian tradition," he said.

Labor's Philip Dalidakis, who is Jewish, is among the MPs who support scrapping the prayer from the Parliament.

"I believe in the separation of church and state," he said.

"I opposed using public school-time for religious instruction and don't believe there is a place for organised religion in our parliament.

"People can pray in their own time,'' he told the ABC.

Consumer Affairs Minister Marlene Kairouz, a Catholic, said there were many religions in the parliament.

"If we need to share other prayers and recognise other religions or other traditions I am more than happy to consider that," she said.

George Pell sentenced to six years' jail for sexually abusing two choirboys

Cardinal George Pell has been sentenced to six years' jail for sexually abusing two choirboys when he was Catholic archbishop of Melbourne in the 1990s.

Pell, 77, was found guilty by a jury last December of sexually abusing the choirboys after a Sunday mass in December 1996 and then assaulting one of them a second time two months later.

The man who was once Australia's most powerful Catholic sat in the dock dressed in a black shirt and a grey blazer, without a clerical collar, as County Court Chief Judge Peter Kidd delivered his sentence.

The chief judge described Pell's abuse of two choirboys in the sacristy at St Patrick's Cathedral as "a brazen and forcible sexual attack on the victims".

"The acts were sexually graphic, both victims were visibly and audibly distressed during the offending," he said.

"There is an added layer of degradation and humiliation that each of your victims must have felt in knowing that their abuse had been witnessed by the other."

"There was a clear relationship of trust with the victims and you breached that trust and abused your position to facilitate this offending," the chief judge said.

"I would characterise these abuses and breaches as grave."

Pell will serve a minimum of three years and eight months in jail before he will be eligible for parole.

He continues to deny he sexually abused the boys and has lodged an appeal against his conviction on three grounds, including that the jury verdict was unreasonable.

'Breathtakingly arrogant' offending

Chief Judge Kidd said the power imbalance between the victims and Pell as a senior church official was "stark".

"The brazenness of your conduct is indicative of your sense of authority and power in relation to the victims," he said.

"You may have thought you could control the situation by reason of your authority, as archbishop, whether or not that belief was well-founded.

"Such a state of mind would have been extraordinarily arrogant, but the offending which the jury has found you have engaged in was in any view breathtakingly arrogant."

The chief judge said Pell's abuse had had a "significant and long-lasting impact" on the wellbeing of one of his victims, whom he referred to as J.

"J has experienced a range of negative emotions which he has struggled to deal with for many years since this offending occurred … he has found it difficult because of issues of trust and anxiety.

"I take into account the profound impact your offending has had on J's life."

The chief judge said he did not have the benefit of a victim impact statement from his other victim, referred to as R, who died of a heroin overdose in 2014 and never reported the abuse.

"However on the basis of J's account at trial I am able to say your offending must have had an immediate and significant impact on R," Chief Judge Kidd said.

"Whilst it is not possible for me to quantify the harm caused, or articulate precisely how it impacted on R in the long run, I have no doubt that it did in some way."

The chief judge gave permission for the hearing to be broadcast live by media outlets and the court room was packed with abuse survivors, advocates and journalists.

'My son's life was wasted'
Speaking outside the court, the father of Pell's late victim said the sentence was "insufficient".

"It's not going to bring my son back," he said.

"I was hoping for 20 [years] but realistically I thought maybe 10, but hey, he's incarcerated, he can't hurt anybody.

"It does give me some satisfaction to note that he's going to be on the sex offenders register for the rest of his life.

He said it gave him a "good feeling" to know that his son's abuser was in jail, but said he found it hard to listen to the chief judge's sentencing remarks.

"I felt like my son's life was wasted. Why was it wasted? For some guy's two minutes of pleasure."

He commended Pell's surviving victim for coming forward and giving evidence against his abuser.

"I want to give him a hug," he said of his son's friend.

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.

In a statement read by his lawyer, Vivian Waller, Pell's surviving victim said he appreciated the court had "acknowledged what was inflicted upon me as a child".

"It is hard for me to allow myself to feel the gravity of this moment … the moment when justice is done."

He said it was hard for him to "take comfort" in Pell's sentence, because the moment had been "overshadowed" by Pell's appeal against his conviction.

"I have played my part as best I can," he said.

"I took the difficult step of reporting to police about a high-profile person and I stood up to give my evidence.

"I am waiting for the outcome of the appeal like everybody else," he said.

Judge condemns 'witch-hunt' mentality
In one part of his remarks, which lasted for more than an hour, Chief Judge Kidd condemned a "lynch mob" mentality against Pell and said the sentence should not be taken as a judgement of the Catholic Church.

"It is George Pell who falls to be sentenced," he said.

"We have witnessed outside of this court and within our community examples of a witch-hunt [or] lynch mob mentality in relation to you, Cardinal Pell.

"I utterly condemn such behaviour, that has nothing to do with justice of civilised society. The courts stand as a bulwark against such irresponsible behaviour."

Chief Judge Kidd also told survivors of child sexual abuse that the sentence "is not and cannot be a vindication of your trauma".

"Cardinal Pell has not been convicted of any wrongs against you. Cardinal Pell does not fall to be punished for any such wrongs," he said.

"I recognise that you seek justice, but it can only be justice if it is done in accordance to law.

"For me to punish Cardinal Pell for the wrongs committed against you would be contrary to the rule of law and it would not be justice at all."

Pell's health taken into account
The chief judge said in determining Pell's sentence he had taken into account Pell's heart problems and high blood pressure, conditions which were likely to be aggravated by stress in prison.

"I will impose a shorter non-parole period than I otherwise would have been inclined to impose in recognition in particular of your age, so as to increase the prospect of you living out the last part of your life in the community," the chief judge said.

He also said he made allowance for Pell's "good character and otherwise blameless life" in the 22 years since his offending.

He said as Pell had maintained his innocence, which was his right, there was no evidence of remorse or contrition on Pell's part to reduce his sentence.

Pell's barrister, Robert Richter QC, had argued at a pre-sentence hearing that Pell's act of sexual penetration on one of the choirboys was a "plain vanilla" case, remarks he later apologised for after a public outcry.

"I reject the submission of your counsel that the offending in the first episode, or the sexual penetration offence, was at, or towards the lower end of the spectrum of seriousness," the chief judge said.

"In my view it does not even approach low-end offending."

Some of the people gathered outside the court shouted at Mr Richter as he left.

As a consequence of his sentence, Pell will be registered for life as a sexual offender.

The chief judge said the cardinal had consented to an application from the prosecution to obtain a forensic sample from him.

Pell's crimes committed at cathedral
The court heard that Pell abused the choirboys, who cannot be identified, after celebrating one of his first Sunday masses as archbishop at St Patrick's Cathedral in East Melbourne.

He caught them drinking altar wine in the priest's sacristy, which was off limits to the choir.

One of the former choirboys gave evidence Pell had planted himself in the doorway and said something like "what are you doing here?" or "you're in trouble".

The then-archbishop moved his robes to expose his penis and forced one of the boys' heads down towards it.

The trial heard one of the choirboys asked: "Can you let us go? We didn't do anything."

But instead Pell moved onto the other choirboy. He pushed the boy's head down to his crotch and orally raped him.

After a few minutes, Pell ordered the boy to remove his pants and then molested him as he masturbated.

Pell abused that boy a second time two months later, after another Sunday mass when he pushed him up against the wall of a corridor in the back of the cathedral and groped him briefly.

Evidence of the abuse came from that former choirboy alone, who was the victim of two assaults.

The Court of Appeal is expected to hear Pell's appeal over two days in June.

Catholics win exemption in ALP plan to link hospital funding, abortion

The Catholic sector will be exempt from federal Labor's plans to tie hospital funding to the provision of abortion services.

It comes as Labor walked back from its "expectation" that all public hospitals be consistently required to offer access to abortions to qualify for federal money under a renewed funding agreement.

Announcing the opposition's new women's health policy on Wednesday, health spokeswoman Catherine King and deputy leader Tanya Plibersek said a new funding agreement between a Labor government and the states and territories would "expect that termination services will be provided consistently in public hospitals".

"This is critical to end the patchwork of service provision in Australia," a joint statement said.

"This is critical to end the patchwork of service provision in Australia," a joint statement said.

Labor's spokesperson for women, Tanya Plibersek, will release a national strategy for women's reproductive health on Wednesday.
Labor pledges to tie hospital funding to abortion services
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However, a spokesman for Ms King said on Thursday "obviously" this would not be possible in every hospital, and the plan was about "working with states and territories to achieve legal, safe, affordable and accessible reproductive health services for women".

"Obviously not every hospital provides every medical procedure – for example, not every hospital does brain surgery or heart surgery. That's the same for terminations," he said.

"But we'll work through everything with the states and territories and local health districts to make sure our public health system offers all Australian woman access to safe, legal termination services if they need them."

On Wednesday, Ms King's office phoned leaders from the Catholic health sector to assure them that a Labor government would not withhold funding from Catholic hospitals refusing to perform terminations on religious grounds.

A spokesman for St Vincent's Health Australia said the sector was confident nothing would change for their facilities.

"Along with other non-government providers of public heath services, St Vincent's Health Australia's facilities have long-standing arrangements in place to care for women who request termination which ensures that they are able to access care and support from other providers if that is their wish," the spokesman said.

"Labor has confirmed that those arrangements will be respected under its new policy on women’s reproductive rights and will remain in place."

A spokesman said the details of the plan would be worked out with the states and territories during the negotiations of federal funding agreements, should Labor win office in May.

The next hospitals funding agreement is due to take effect in next year.

Victoria's Australian Medical Association general practice chairwoman Ines Rio said access to safe abortion was a "fundamental element of healthcare".

She said more should be done to improve access to medical terminations (the so-called abortion drug RU486), and overhaul the Medicare rebate system for GPs.

"Yesterday I inserted an IUD for a patient, which took 45 minutes and required nursing staff, and I got back $59 from Medicare," she said.

"It's not a financial model that's sustainable. The general practitioners are paying for that to be provided."

Suzanne Greenwood, chief executive of Catholic Health Australia, said while the details of Labor's policy remained unclear, the Catholic sector would never support abortion services.

"The deliberate killing of that innocent person in those early stages of life is not something we can participate in," she said.

About one quarter of Australian women will access an abortion service across their reproductive lives, says family planning organisation Marie Stopes Australia. It also estimates between 0 and 10 per cent of abortion services are provided by public hospitals, depending on the state.

Andrews Government to remove church confessional exemption on reporting child sexual abuse

The Victorian government says it will introduce legislation that will force anyone told of child sexual abuse in confessional to be subject to mandatory reporting laws.

Any adult who forms a reasonable belief that a sexual offence has been committed by an adult against a child under 16 is obliged to report that information to police, failing to do so is a criminal offence

However, religious confessions are currently exempt from the “failure to disclose” offence if information about the abuse is revealed under confession.
Victorian Attorney-General Jill Hennessy said the legislation will also look to “take away the legal defence of the confessional as a reason as to why people ought not to report child sexual abuse”.

“I’m hopeful that I will get that legislation into the parliament by the end of this year,” Ms Hennessy said. have contacted the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne for comment.

Members within the Church have recently come out saying they will not adhere to a change in the law requiring priests to report confessions of child sex abuse.

“Politicians can change the law, but we can’t change the nature of the confessional, which is a sacred encounter between a penitent and someone seeking forgiveness and a priest representing Christ,” Bishop Greg O’Kelly told ABC Radio Adelaide last year.

Just a handful of Victorian child sexual abuse victims have reached compensation agreements under a national redress scheme, according to the Andrews Government.

Ms Hennessy has written to the federal government asking for more resources to quicken the administration of the scheme and to express her disappointment.

"Last year we had only one-third of our 66 applications the subject of offers being made to those victims and this year only two of 34 applications have been processed," she said.

“We know that institutions and governments and communities significantly failed victims of child sexual abuse.

“To change this we’ve got to make sure we are doing this properly.”

Proposal to replace the parliamentary prayer with an invitation to prayer or reflection

Submission of the Victorian Secular Lobby, Inc to the Senate Standing Committee on Procedure.

1. Status of the Submission

On 27 June 2018, the Senate referred the following matter concerning parliamentary prayer to the Senate Standing Committee on Procedure ("the Committee") for inquiry and report by 22 August 2018.

A proposal has been made to replace the parliamentary prayer with an invitation to prayer or reflection. The Committee has invited submissions and will take evidence in public session.

This submission is a contribution by the Victorian Secular Lobby, Inc. addressing the terms of reference of the Committee's inquiry. The Victorian Secular Lobby is incorporated in the State of Victoria, Number A00594400A.

Representatives of the Victorian Secular Lobby are willing to meet members of the Committee in public or private sessions. This submission may be published by the Committee.

2. Standing Order 50, Current Status

The current standing order (amended 26 October 2010) is entitled "50 Prayer and acknowledgement of country" requires the president read the following prayer:

"Almighty God, we humbly beseech Thee to vouchsafe Thy special blessing upon this Parliament, and that Thou wouldst be pleased to direct and prosper the work of Thy servants to the advancement of Thy glory, and to the true welfare of the people of Australia.

Our Father, which art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen."

The President shall then make an acknowledgement of country:

"I acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples who are the traditional custodians of the Canberra area and pay respect to the elders, past and present, of all Australia’s Indigenous peoples."

3. Proposed Amendment to Title

It is proposed to omit the existing heading and substitute "50 Prayer or reflection and acknowledgement of country".

The proposed amendment removes "prayer" as a requirement and allows for the option of prayer or reflection, depending on the individual Senator. As has been noted (Puig and Tudor, 2009) prayer is an inherently religious practise, as as a result the existing Senate Standing Order therefore constitutes a religious test to the president of the Senate.

The current requirement appears to contradict of Section 116 of the Australian Constitution.

"The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth."

It is insufficient to argue that the Senate Standing Orders are not a law. The Constitutional directive prohibits both the making of laws for the establishment (observance, free exercise etc) of religion but also specifies with the logical operator 'and', 'no religious test shall be required ...' etc. Under existing Senate Standing Orders a president of the Senate who refuses to invoke in standing order 50 is, by means of religious test, breaking their standing order and breeching their requirements as the president.

The proposed amendment to title, whilst ensuring the requirement for the secular acknowledgement of country (use of the logical 'and' clause), remove the religious requirement as a test whilst allowing for a religious option (use of the logical 'or' clause).

The Victorian Secular Lobby Inc., supports the proposed amendment to title.

4. Proposed New First Paragraph

It is proposed to omit all words after "following" in the first paragraph and substitute with "invitation to prayer or reflection: Senators, let us, in silence, pray or reflect upon our responsibilities to all people of Australia, and to future generations".

Similar comments are made concerning the 'Amendment to Title' regarding the relationship to the content and Section 116 of the Australian Constitution. In addition the current prayer is specifically not just religious, but Christian, and even more so, not just Christian but a particularly Protestant prayer (c.f., Puig and Tudor, 2009, ibid). It is even more of a sectarian religious test than the requirement of prayer itself.

Such religious sectarianism is deeply inappropriate for a secular institution and is especially inappropriate for those who do not share that particular creed. In the 2016 Australian census the proportion of the population reporting as Anglicans was 13.3% (down from 23.9% in 1986), Catholics 22.6% (down from 26.1% in 1986), whilst Christianity as a whole was 52.1% (down from 73.0% in 1986%).

An opening of order of business of the Senate should not just satisfy a minority denomination or even a bare-majority religion, regardless of tradition, but rather encourage civic-mindedness from the representatives to all constituents regardless of the religious beliefs (or lack thereof) of either the representatives or the constituents.

The proposed amendment allows for individual Senators to engage in this responsibility in a manner which both satisfies those with religious beliefs and for those who do not. It satisfies both the requirements of the constitution, removes the religious and denominational sectarian test, and incorporates the demographic changes that Australia has experienced.

The Victorian Secular Lobby Inc., supports the proposed new first paragraph.

5. Further Considerations

The remarks on this document will also apply for standing order 38 of the House of Representatives, which has similar requirements. If the proposed title amendment and new paragraph is implement the House of Representatives should also seek an equivalent change.

6. References

Gonzalo Villalta Puig and Steven Tudor, "To the Advancement of Thy Glory?: A Constitutional and Policy Critique of Parliamentary Prayers", 20 Public Law Review 56, 58-9, 2009

Supporting ethics in all time slots

Ian Bryce

There has been vigorous discussion between State Humanist societies about whether ethics should be taught by volunteers, and in the Religious Instruction timeslot, if that is the only option.

Aligned with Humanism

Firstly, I will argue that the content of the various ethics classes is closely aligned with Humanist values. Human Rights feature very strongly in Humanist objectives. Ethics curricula lead the students to work out that human rights stem from human needs, such as food, shelter, clothing, housing, and physical freedoms. At a higher level is freedom of thought, speech, association etc.

All sentient creatures share, to varying extents, common capacities for suffering and well-being. Thus animals also deserve fair treatment, in some cases a subset of human rights. These themes are closely paralleled in Humanist thought.

An element of many ethics classes is to show the students that, while principles are often useful to make good decisions, sometimes two principles can come into conflict, for example, telling the truth yet not hurting a friend’s feelings. Then a deeper analysis is needed, which looks at the circumstances and consequences.

Another theme of ethics lessons is obedience to authority, which firstly asks, what makes a good authority. Then we ask, under what circumstances is it okay to question authority. This underpins many Humanist themes such as child protection, personal responsibility, civil obedience, and democracy.

I will draw from the “Amsterdam Declaration of 2002” which lists the fundamentals of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) and its affiliations, for some specific comparisons.

IHEU Article 2 declares: “Humanism advocates the application of the methods of science and free inquiry to the problems of human welfare.” This is well covered by topics such as “Why should we trust science?” This invites students to investigate the processes of scientific justification, through facilitated enquiry.

IHEU Article 3 is titled “Humanism supports democracy and human rights.” This is reflected in the NSW Ethics program topic, “Voting - an ethical issue?” which explores the importance of democracy, and how to vote in a responsible manner (all with age-appropriate scenarios).

IHEU Article 4 includes: “[Humanism] is thus committed to education free from indoctrination.” That is the essence of school philosophy and ethics classes: pupils learn to think for themselves. The proposed Victorian Ethics program uses the “community of inquiry” method for the same reason.

Thus ethics lessons and Humanist values run closely parallel.

Improved Student behaviour

There have been several formal studies into the outcomes of philosophy and ethics lessons. The earliest is from Clackmannanshire in Scotland. The report says it “took place in mainstream classes of 30 pupils, with teachers with little previous experience of leading whole-class enquiries. However, developing open ‘communities of enquiry’ is likely to require a shift in pedagogy for many teachers. The role of the teacher in supporting whole class enquiry emphasises the role of the teacher as ‘curious facilitator’ rather than ‘expert instructor’.”

The conclusions state: “The Clackmannanshire study provided robust evidence that one hour of classroom philosophical enquiry each week in primary schools can be highly cost-effective in promoting:

“1. Developments in cognitive ability.

“2. Developments in critical reasoning skills and dialogue in the classroom.

“3. Emotional and social developments (including reduced bullying).”

Secondly, there was a trial of philosophy lessons for all schools by normal teachers at Buranda primary state school in Brisbane. In a report in 2007, the Principal, Lynne Hinton, says the program was introduced to improve thinking skills and confidence, with the hope these would lead to improved academic outcomes in literacy and numeracy. “These expectations were certainly achieved as well as some very exciting, unexpected results,” she says. “The most significant of these was an improvement in social skills, leading to the current situation where bullying is simply not an issue at our school. We have also had an extraordinary improvement in student engagement.”

In 2010, a trial of ethics classes was held in New South Wales. This resulted in a report, which said that with some improvements (subsequently made), benefit to students would flow.

In 2011, Fred Nile, MLC, demanded a parliamentary review of the ethics classes. The Humanist Society of NSW made a positive submission, which is a good reference. In 2012, this review published its Report5, which concluded: “We are of the view that SRE (religion) and SEE (ethics) can operate alongside each other in NSW government schools to the benefit of all students who are the key stakeholders in this debate.”

I organised a Panel on “Ethics education initiatives around Australia” in Sydney in May 2013.6 This has helped to spread it around Australia.

So a range of studies have systematically found that ethics classes (whether by volunteers or regular teachers) are of academic and social benefit to tudents. In addition, there is a constant stream of feedback from regular teachers observing ethics classes about how engaged the students are, and from parents about children raising important issues at home.


There have been objections to using volunteers instead of the normal teachers. But in all such classes I have studied, the teaching modality was whole-class enquiry, or “community of enquiry”. The teacher acts as a moderator or facilitator, a very different mode from the usual instruction. Thus volunteer teachers are probably just as capable in this mode as the regular teachers. The measured positive results flow in either case. In my experience, the only issue that has arisen with Ethics volunteers is student behaviour. In that event, there are effective remedies available.

In any case, most of the volunteer teachers have teaching experience (I have high school, university and business).

And of course they are trained and audited to the required level. To use only normal teachers would mean some other part of the curriculum would need to be dropped, or additional staff employed.

The ethics curriculum material itself as well as the delivery method has been examined, adjusted where necessary, and approved, by the relevant education authority in all cases. Volunteers have long been involved in providing additional teaching at state schools. The students clearly enjoy a new mode, new material, and a new face.

In the RI time-slot?

There has been criticism that teaching ethics under the arrangements set up for religious instruction (RI, or various names in other states) only cements the RI in place, whereas Humanists are meanwhile pushing for abolition of RI altogether.

Yes, we all would like religion to be abolished from our supposedly secular education system. However, this is not possible in the foreseeable future in many states. The options available to students can be:

* RI or non-scripture (idle time);

* RI, Ethics or non-scripture.

Due to having this choice, around 20,000 children in New South Wales (and soon more in Victoria) have received and benefited from ethics education. To deny this for the sake of a principle would be a great step backwards. It is a case of the Nirvana fallacy, where a good choice is rejected because it is not perfect. For these reasons, at the Council of Australian Humanist Societies AGM in May 2014, the delegates voted to approve the motion “That CAHS supports ethics education in schools both in the RI timeslot and in the core curriculum”.


1. Promoting Social and Cognitive Development through Collaborative Enquiry: An evaluation of the ‘Thinking Through Philosophy’ programme, Clackmannanshire Council 2005.

2. Queensland Education Department article on ethics education at Buranda Public School (primary):

3. NSW Ethics Course Trial ? Final Report, Dr Sue Knight, October 2010.

4. Inquiry into Education Amendment (Ethics Classes Repeal) Bill 2011: Submissions from Humanist Society of NSW, 2012.

5. Education Amendment (Ethics Classes Repeal) Bill: Final Report, May 2012.

6. Ethics Education Panel, A.H. No. 112.


On secular education

Stevie Modern

At its annual general meeting in May this year, the Council of Australian Humanist Societies (CAHS) voted in support of volunteer ethics teachers entering public schools and teaching ethics programs to students as a secular alternative in religious education. The motion was put to the meeting by the New South Wales Society with the support of the Humanist Society of Victoria. The motion was opposed by the Queensland, Western Australian and South Australian Societies.

Here is why the motion is a grave mistake, and why Western Australia moved its own motion against it.

What is wrong with volunteer ethics teaching

The motion as put by New South Wales stated, “That CAHS supports ethics education in schools both in the Religious Instruction (RI) timeslot and in
the core curriculum.”

In its supporting rationale, the meeting was asked to agree to an ideal, to quote: “Ideally, we would like to see the elimination of Religious Instruction (RI) altogether,” an ideal which we as Humanists share. However, the motion not only abandons this ideal, but capitulates? in whatever form ? to a future in which our children are to be divided and segregated according to the religious faiths of their parents. It leaves, and in fact reinforces, the idea that religious groups should be allowed entry and division in the learning environment.

On offer is the fruit of a so-called compromise: ethics smuggled undercover as just another belief system to share equal place among the irrational beliefs of powerful majorities. But, ethics is a whole branch of philosophy, not a belief. So while religious groups can proselytise with internal consistency, it would fall to ethics volunteers to cover “ethics” ? from Plato to Popper, Heraclitus to Heidegger, and hope that a digest version of Sophie’s World would be absorbed by students in a limited timeslot.

This idea represents acceptance of religious lobbyists’ arguments that secular, neutral education is somehow value-free. Nothing could be further from the truth. The real opportunities for ethics teaching lie throughout the core curriculum. What more ethical stance could supplant the basis of mathematics: one and one will always equal two, A is A no matter your wish or whim that it was otherwise? What more ethical belief can demonstrate better than through a science-class telescope that patient objective sense can unlock old mysteries, that the universe is knowable to rational inquiry? What better ethics can be offered than through literature, where children can discover exemplars like Atticus Finch?1

Indeed, the idea that ethics volunteers are filling a moral vacuum devalues the moral values our public teachers imbue in students every day. You can read about these in the National Framework for Values Education in Australian Schools (2005). In it, you will see that our national curriculum does not share multiple stances on, for example, bullying, honesty, tolerance and multicultural inclusion.2 In fact, the document speaks to the very humanist ethic underlying our secular school system.

Human rights activist Geoffrey Robertson was awarded Australian Humanist of the Year for 2014. This is a year, when the Federal government is more intent than ever to increase the scope of religious chaplaincy, that Humanist societies should demand in his honour a public sphere for our children’s education free from pressure-group warfare, one based on our constitutional right, and our children’s right, to a secular public space [with?] Ethics taught as part of our core curriculum and by trained qualified staff.

To do otherwise is to ignore the poison of “Humble Faith”, the strychnine fed to our children, and hope that the fresh fruit or vegetable of volunteer-driven Ethics will serve as an adequate antidote. Religious education shares no rational place in teachers’ efforts to raise ethically responsible citizens. In any competition between food and poison, poison once ingested will win.

It is not a “grey” issue, or compromise, to accede that Ethics in our schools should share billing with preachers and theocrats: it’s a prescription and roadmap for failure. Australia’s children have been promised a proper education with accountable, trained teachers in an open environment for all. Humanists should support that promise and not accede to religion in our schools.

We seek this accountability so that children are educated on various ethical and religious stances in a non-sectarian environment. As Geoffrey Robertson writes in Dreaming Too Loud, those who speak of delivering “moral values to our school children neglect to ask, Whose values?”

We shouldn’t neglect this question. We’ve read the news reports. Children are being told by motivated volunteers their little gay friends will die in Hell, that abstinence rather than sexual education is the only morally effective means of preventing disease, and so on. If we are asked to devalue state education with motivated volunteers, ask “whose motivations?” We know from the web sites of participant organisations that their designs are the recruitment and conversion of innocent children. In a recent letter to sponsors, Access Ministries states children will be subject to “ravages and devastation” without its “Christian Ministry”. 3

We understand the desire to ameliorate the social evils of religious indoctrination in our schools. We do understand, though, that we will never be rid of it the moment we accede to the idea that any pressure group should have entrée to the impressionable minds of our children, and worse, that we should somehow join them in the practice.

Why do our education departments place an emphasis on qualified teachers in the subjects of mathematics, science, literature? Have school inspectors oversee them? Why a curriculum at all? It is because we know that teaching is a highly complex process, designed to ensure children’s acquisition and accommodation of knowledge is handled by those with actual knowledge about child development.

At a time when literacy and numeracy levels, and competency in languages which do build and bind our common community, are falling in Australia relative to other countries globally, teachers need more than ever each valuable hour in the curriculum to ensure our children have the best chance of an educational future. Our children deserve no less than professional experts, people who are passionate about education and who are trained in education. Good education is too important to leave to people with ulterior motives.

Yes, we indeed look like we have an ulterior motive when we say, “Look at them! Give us a chance along with the misogynists and faith-mongers, who
are intent on short-circuiting the rational cognitive development of our children. Give us our own chance to teach our different ‘belief system’, that whole-branch-of-philosophy called Ethics.”

Finally, our children should be allowed the privilege to be children; not atheist children, not Muslim children, Wiccan children, nor Jewish children, and certainly not in a community school. They should be simply children, developing their brains before their beliefs.

Inclusion, socially and economically, was a guiding principle behind the establishment of public education in Australia. That is Humanist values in action. It is the very reason why public education should remain secular.

Competition between volunteer pressure groups is not best practice, and in front of children, not ethical.


1. Atticus Finch is a character in Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird.

2. Dept of Education, Science and Training (2005) National Framework for Values Education in Australian Schools: p.4.

3. Access Ministries (2014), “Please help protect Christian ministry in schools”.


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