Queensland public education hasn’t been secular since 1910 when Bible lessons by teachers were enshrined within the Qld Education Act. Secular Public Education (Ltd) and the Humanist Society of Queensland believe this legislation must be repealed.
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The story so far.
In 2006, working with then Labor education minister Rod Welford and the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Commission, then HSQ president Zelda Bailey almost managed to have the 1910 education act Bible lessons and religious instruction provisions repealed. On the eve of its final reading, then premier Peter Beattie abandoned the ambitious amendment, caving-in to pressure from his own backbenchers, LNP, ACL, and then federal education minister Julie Bishop.
At the time, Julie Bishop threatened to withhold “billions of dollars of funding” to Queensland education if Christian religious instruction was tampered-with, adding that any interference would result in Queensland public school students being “taught in a moral vacuum”.
In 2019, the 1910 statutory provisions for confessional Christian religious instruction and Education Queensland teacher-provided Bible lessons remain virtually unchanged. The Humanist Society of Queensland believes this is unacceptable, and it is again time to seek the repeal of anachronistic Chapter 5 of the Queensland Education (General Provisions) Act 2006.
How did we arrive here?
In 1859, the settlement of Moreton Bay separated from New South Wales to become the colony of Queensland. This would require the establishment of a new system of government, and sixteen years later in 1875, the creation of a strictly secular public school system—freed from the control of Christian churches which had overseen education since settlement.
In 1875, the first Queensland Education Act was created, providing for free, compulsory and secular public education. Queensland state schools were truly secular, not allowing any religious materials onto school grounds, with a requirement for school teachers to teach only secular material.
As the years passed, the Protestant-led ‘Bible in State Schools League’ zealously lobbied for the right to provide Bible lessons and religious instruction to Queensland state school students during school hours.
In 1910, the Queensland Government held a referendum to ask whether religious instruction to be conducted by the local priest, vicar or pastor, and Bible lessons to be provided by government school teachers, should be introduced to state schools.
Although the referendum was strenuously opposed by the Roman Catholic church, it was successful. Yes: 74,228. No: 56,681. Informal: 7,651.
Because government school teachers would be now providing Bible lessons, 1910 education act amendments included the deletion of every occurrence of the word ‘secular’, including a vital clause which read:
Secular instruction only to be given in State schools and provisional schools.
5. In State schools and provisional schools secular instruction only shall be given and no teacher shall give any other than secular instruction in any State school building.
The fact that the Queensland education act has been without this vital stipulation for over one hundred years is astonishing.
A similar ‘secular requirement’ clause exists to this day in the NSW and Victorian education acts. Its non-existence in the Queensland act has numerous disturbing consequences including intelligent design being ‘taught’ in parallel with the theory of evolution within science classes.
The provision for Queensland government-employed school teachers to conduct ‘selected Bible lessons’ in school hours remains within Chapter 5 of the Queensland Education (General Provisions) Act 2006.
Across the coming months, HSQ has strategies in place to challenge the 1910 Bible lessons and religious instruction provisions within the Queensland Education Act.
As it stands, the Queensland education act is blatantly uninclusive. We ask—as proposed by the Queensland Teachers’ Union—that all legislated religious instruction and Bible lessons be repealed, and a requirement for strictly secular instruction be restored in line with the education acts of NSW and Victoria.
Secular Public Education (Ltd)