Reverse the ban on prayer groups in Victorian public schools!
This petition made change with 71 supporters!
To the Elected Representatives of the State of Victoria,
In response to the recent banning of optional religious study groups by the Victorian State Government, I write to voice my strong opposition to this decision. My objection is based in both my understanding of the right to the free exercise of religion in this country, and my personal experience of the immense benefits of a school prayer group.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (to which Australia is of course a signatory), Article 18, states that: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”
Furthermore, the Australian Constitution, Section 116, states that: “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.”
I believe that the recent ban on lunchtime prayer groups and religious clubs conducted by staff, parents, visitors or volunteers is a direct violation of the spirit and substance of these two legal instruments, which guarantee protection of the human right to freedom of religion. A lunchtime prayer group, attended purely voluntarily and in students’ own time, is an entirely acceptable ‘manifestation’, or ‘free exercise’ of religion, and is surely the exact type of practice that these legal instruments seek to protect. The fact that such groups occur within a secular, publicly funded school should by no means deprive it of this protection. The groups are for the religious edification of students who participate voluntarily, making absolutely no imposition on the conduct or beliefs of other students and teachers, and in no way detracting from the appropriate secularity and pluralism of the public school agenda.
Religious lunchtime groups in schools are a significant part of the lives of many public school students across Australia. These groups give students the opportunity to meet together and share their beliefs, free from the judgement of a secular and sometimes anti-religious setting.
The ban has been brought about in response to a Christian group distributing Christian resources to a non-SRI student through another student, without the knowledge of the organisation. This should not mean that all lunchtime groups and religious support networks suffer as a result. The general purpose of the legislation, to ensure parental information is provided and to ensure that providers of SRE are adequately trained, is appropriate and a step in the right direction. However, the blanket ban of all non-SRE religious gatherings gives rise to a grave ethical problem.
As a current HSC student in a NSW comprehensive boy’s public school, I am involved in a Christian prayer group with about 45 regular attendees. This group meets just down the hall from a Muslim prayer group, in an arrangement of peaceful companionship. In my personal experience, we do not see conversions inside our group. Prayer groups are not evangelical; we do not seek to make conversions within the playground. It is a support network for like-minded Christians, who come together from varied denominational backgrounds in the midst of a busy school week to find support and assistance from students in all year groups. This opportunity for emotional and spiritual support is an invaluable resource for so many students around Australia, and removing it from Victorian schools would be to deprive Victorian students of this immense benefit.
School religious groups are also an avenue for significant development in the area of leadership. As one of the first leaders of my group, I have had the opportunity to watch ten boys in the year below me grow and develop in their ability to speak to a gathering and grow in their interpersonal skills.
A further advantage of our prayer group is the opportunity to meet other like-minded Christians within the school, and in other schools through ISCF events. As a young student in middle school, my personal experience was one of worry and isolation due to my beliefs, and I have been encouraged by meeting those in a similar situation, and being able to share with them in a judgement-free environment.
Furthermore, I would like to question the values of Mr. Dixon in this decision. Prayer groups do not take away from the educational experience that publicly funded schools must provide. I find it hard to understand why then a man in Mr. Dixons position would impose this legislation. While I respect a person’s decision not to follow a religion, I find it deeply disturbing when individuals seek to limit another person’s spiritual experience. This leads me to question the true leadership abilities of a man who uses his office to fulfil a personal agenda over the good of his state.
Prayer groups cost the government no money.
Prayer groups are a positive environment to enable the emotional growth of students.
Prayer groups develop the personal skills of countless students in leadership, public speaking and interpersonal communication.
Most disturbingly, this decision is a violation of the human right to meet in community to practice religion, grounded in Article 18 of the Declaration of Human Rights, and Section 116 of the Australian Constitution.
Please reverse this ban, and allow the continuation of an incredibly positive experience for many public school students.
The Victorian State Government was elected to represent the best interests of Australian citizens. I call upon you to make the decision that will enable a greater educational experience for Victorian students.
More information here: http://www.makeastand.org.au/campaign/index.php?campaign_id=60
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