As Christian groups demand the withdrawal of an unofficial policy that could see primary school students disciplined for talking about Jesus in the schoolyard, the Queensland Education Department has called an urgent meeting with the government’s religious instruction advisory group,
Education Minister Kate Jones has insisted there has been no change to the state government’s religious instruction policy — despite the recent release of a departmental document that warns schools to take “appropriate action” against students caught “evangelising” outside class.
The directive, contained within the department’s review into the GodSpace religious instruction materials, has been criticised as an attack on freedom of speech and religion.
The Australian has reported that the document was not provided to the Religious Instruction Quality Assurance Committee, which comprises representatives from a range of faiths and is responsible for advising the department on religious education, ahead of its publication.
Ms Jones on Friday acknowledged the departmental advice had caused “genuine confusion and concern" and confirmed that there has been no change to religious instruction policy.
But religious and charity lawyer Mark Fowler disputed the claim of no change to the religious instruction policy. The section that has alarmed Christian groups states: “While not explicitly prohibited by the [legislation], nor referenced in the Religious Instruction (RI) policy, the department expects schools to take appropriate action if aware that students participating in RI are evangelising to students who do not ... given this could adversely affect the school’s ability to provide a safe, supportive and inclusive environment.”
Examples of “evangelising”, according to the GodSpace review and two earlier reviews into other religious instruction materials, include handing out Christmas cards that mention Jesus’s birth, sharing poems or songs about Christianity or telling others outside the RI class about Jesus.