Secular character of public schools



1. Special Religious Education and Ethics Classes in Public Schools

The CCL committee had recommended that the AGM endorse the following policy
statements relating to the secular character of Public Schools.
i. NSWCCL strongly supports the separation of church and state as a core principle underpinning robust democracy, and as a necessary principle for the protection of civil rights including freedom of religion and speech. As a consequence, NSWCCL supports the flow-on principle that state agencies and state funded programs should be secular and not incorporate faith based religious programs or faith based religious criteria for employment. Public schools are centrally important sites for maintenance and strengthening of democracy and should be secular, free and open to all residents.
ii. Faith based religious education (as distinct from general religious and ethics education) has no place within the curriculum of secular, public schools. The NSW Education Act 1990 should be amended to remove the anomalous clause (S 32) establishing a requirement for a set allocation of time each week for special religious education. 1 Pending this amendment, the 2010 decision by the then NSW Government to allow schools to provide secular ethics classes as an alternative is supported as a partial remedy to the inappropriate and discriminatory prior provision, which prohibited students not wishing to attend a faith based Special Religious Education class from any alternative secular educational activity.

This partial remedy should be immediately extended to all students attending public schools. The Education Act 1990 (S.33A) 2 should be amended so that the provision of ethics classes as an alternative to Special Religious Education is a mandatory
curriculum offering in all public schools.

Moved Stephen Blanks /Max Taylor: That the policies relating to the secular character of public schools and special religious education and ethics classes in public schools be approved: Carried unanimously.

1 S30 of the NSW Education Act states: In government schools, the education is to consist of strictly non-sectarian and secular instruction. The words secular instruction are to be taken to include general religious education as distinct from dogmatic or polemical theology. 2 S33A(2)(a) states that a child is entitled to receive special education in ethics only if “it is reasonably practical’ for it to be made available.

2. Policy on School Chaplains Program in Public Schools

It is proposed that this AGM of the NSWCCL endorses the following policy statements as recommended by the CCL committee:
i. While NSWCCL notes that the 2011 amendments to the program have removed the outrageous prohibition on the employment of any individuals without affiliation to a recognised faith based religious institution in this Government funded program in public schools, we remain opposed to the National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Program.
ii. CCL opposes the Australian Government funded Chaplains in Schools program on the basis that it breaches the principle of separation of church and state in two ways.

  • on the basis of a faith based religious criterion – even though it allows some to
    be appointed without this criterion
  • By designating the program as “Chaplains” in Schools, and by appointing some persons on the basis of their faith based religious affiliations, the Government is, in practice, unavoidably creating both the reality and the perception of faith based counselling and welfare support of students in public schools.

Both these characteristics of the program seriously undermine the secular nature of public schools

Moved Stephen Blanks /Pauline Wright: That the policy relating to school chaplains in public
schools be approved: Carried unanimously.