Special religious instruction (SRI) occupies a privileged position in State primary schools and has come in for public criticism on several levels, since 2008, when this Society petitioned for a secular alternative. Some aggrieved parents laid a complaint, that the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development neglected its duty of care for students opted-out from SRI, resulting in instances of humiliation and ostracism. In August 2011, the Department was persuaded to remove some of the regulatory impediments to fair treatment of non-religious children. Nevertheless the damage had been done, and the case of religious discrimination proceeded to the Victorian Civil & Administrative Tribunal.
VCAT, after several postponements, is addressing the case from 1 to 9 March, and Humanists and other secularists as well as parents of young children will be interested to follow it. Might this be our Australian equivalent of McCollum v (USA) Board of Education, 1948, a case brought by a humanist, which struck down religious instruction in State schools throughout the United States? At the very least it will clarify the terms under which SRI will be governed in Victoria.
The hearing starts at 10 am, is open to the public and is billed as ‘Aitken and others vs DEECD’. Everyone interested is encouraged to attend some time during the hearing. Wednesday 7 March has been set as a lay day, and the hearing resumes on Thursday 8 March for the summing up. The court venue is the VCAT offices at 55 King Street, Melbourne – see picture. – SNS