Pressure on Government over bible lessons

Last updated 05:00 22/02/2013

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Parents who oppose bible lessons in public schools are taking their fight to the Government.

About a dozen schools have already dropped religious classes since a group of parents launched the Secular Education Network campaign last year, according to group spokesman Peter Harrison.

"There's many parents across the country who have expressed their concern. And many Christians who vehemently oppose us."

The secular group is now hoping to apply pressure on the Government to close a legal loophole allowing schools to "close" during the day for bible lessons.

Mr Harrison voiced his concerns yesterday at a select committee hearing on the Education Amendment Bill.

He said it had been difficult to get political parties onside because neither side wanted to make religion an issue.

Public primary schools are by law secular but a rule in the legislation, called the Nelson Clause, allows schools to close for bible classes during school hours.

About 40 per cent of state primary schools used the clause to run primarily Christian instruction classes.

The secular group launched a campaign in March last year to remove bible classes from public schools, including pamphlet drops to parents and pushing schools to cancel the lessons.

Churches Education Commission - the largest provider of school bible lessons - said it had noticed a decline in schools using the Nelson Clause to "close" for bible classes.

"There's no doubt there has been a drop-off, but schools are adapting. Instead of closing the programme, they are switching to lunchtime programmes," CEC chief executive Simon Greening said.

Principals were also looking at after-school programmes and bible breakfast clubs.

Mr Greening said there was no need to scrap the Nelson Clause.

"The act allows boards to decide for themselves their own religious education policy.

"Schools should have the freedom to choose what works best for them."

Bible classes taught important values to children, he said.

CEC and Mr Harrison had been in discussions to reach a compromise over the controversial religious lessons.

The secular group was not opposed to shifting religious lessons to an after-school extra-curricular activity.

Mr Harrison said currently bible classes were being held without the knowledge or permission of parents.

He had also heard reports of children who had opted out of bible classes being forced to clean staff dishes or pick up rubbish during the bible lessons.

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- The Dominion Post

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