In the school playground, children talk about everything and anything: what they watch on television, who is eating what for lunch, their favourite sporting players and what bands they’re listening too, and what they’re hoping to do on the weekend. But if the Queensland Education Department have their way, the one topic children will not be allowed to speak about is Jesus.
In our click bait media culture, it is sometimes hard to discern real stories from the dubious, but sure enough, this story is legitimate.
The Queensland Education Department have undertaken to inform schools that children are not to discuss Christianity outside formal Religious Instruction classes.
To quote from the Departmental report that has been given to schools,
“While not explicitly prohibited by the EGPA or EGPR, nor referenced in the RI policy statement, the Department expects schools to take appropriate action if aware that students participating in RI are evangelising to students who do not participate in their RI class, given this could adversely affect the school’s ability to provide a safe, supportive and inclusive environment for all students.”
What is extraordinary about this memorandum is that the Department admits that this prohibition falls outside the parameters of any formal policy and guidelines, but they are nevertheless insisting schools take action.
Evangelism is defined by the Department as “preaching or advocating a cause or religion with the object of making converts to Christianity”.
The problem with their definition of evangelism is that in effectively prohibits any conversation that involves God, Jesus, and Church. Inviting a friend to a Christmas service might be interpreted as evangelism. Sharing what you learned about God could be taken as evangelism. It is only natural for children to talk about and share things that are important to them and that they enjoy; for many children this includes belief in Jesus and being part of a church.
Is the education department really wanting to squash children’s freedom to talk about issues beyond homework, sport, music, and latest i-pad apps?
Is inviting a friend to a church event really going to undermine pluralism and respect? Is a group of student engaging in the big questions of life so unacceptable?
Associate Professor of Law, Neil Foster, has written an important response to this QLD report, pointing out that it fails several important tests. It is worth taking the time to read. In summary, he notes that,
1. This “expectation” is not supported by legislation
2. This “expectation” is probably illegal as discriminatory
3. The “expectation” is illegal as contradicting the head legislation
4. The “expectation” undermines free speech of pupils
5. The “expectation” undermines religious freedom for pupils
These points alone amount to checkmate, but there is more.
First, the prohibition fails the test of what is sensible.
Remembering what it’s like to be a child at school, and having 3 children at school, I can imagine the kinds of conversations that will happening today. During lunch there will be 10 year old students inviting their friends to the movies this weekend: Do you want to come with me and watch the new Transformers movie or Planet of the Apes film? Watching age inappropriate movies is fine, but Church is too dangerous. Birthday cards will be handed out, but please avoid Christmas cards. Have a giggle over dirty jokes, but let’s be clear, no one can mention the Bible.
I realise Queensland is the sunny state, but one can have too much sun. This Departmental imposition really is as silly as it sounds, and it will in fact achieve the opposite of their intention, which is to ‘provide a safe, supportive and inclusive environment for all students.’
In recent years we have laughed at schools who have banned balls from the playground, because they are a threat to children’s safety. Now, we have to remove Jesus talk because it will undermine social cohesion in schools? Do we really not trust that our kids can have reasonable conversations about religion? It is all the more ironic, because the very principles that these bureaucrats want to see in school, that of respect and inclusion, are based on Christian beliefs?
Second, the QLD Education Department wrongly assumes that non-God talk in the playground is somehow morally and spiritual neutral, as though children can chat about any topic in a theologically neutral way. This is not true secularism, it’s imposed atheism. It is anti-pluralism. If the only permitted discourse is void of language deferring to God and religion, then what we will have is exclusive and intolerant atheism. Is that the kind of school environment we want for our children?
As I was reading about this story this morning, my mind turned to the book of Acts in the Bible and to chapter 4 where the city’s leadership arrested Peter and John for talking about Jesus with people. They warned the disciples, ‘do not speak or teach in the name Jesus’. Peter and John replied, ‘we can’t help it’. One can only assume that these education officials haven’t ready a Bible nor studied history, because demanding that people stop talking about Jesus usually has the opposite affect.
I trust that sane heads will prevail and that the Queensland Education Department will retract this injunction.
The QLD Education Minister has released a statement this afternoon denying there’s any ban on students sharing their faith with other students. Ms Jones said, ‘No one is telling a child what they can and can’t say in the playground.”
This is welcome news. However it doesn’t explain the Department’s report which she accepted, a report which urges schools not to permit God-talk by students outside of Scripture Classes. This report falls under the official policy section of the Education Department, titled, ‘Religious instruction policy statement’.
On this page there is a section marked ‘Reviews’ which is introduced with this statement,
“The purpose of the reviews is to provide guidance to state schools as to whether the program complies with departmental policies, procedures and applicable law.”
This ban is official guidance for schools.
In other words, the Minister’s statement is at odds with her own Department’s position.
We encourage Ms Jones to follow through with today’s positive announcement and ensure that those statements about evangelism are removed altogether.