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School children have a right to discuss their religious beliefs

By Bill O'Chee - posted Thursday, 3 August 2017

Recent attempts by Queensland's Education Department to ban students talking about Jesus with other students are absurd, and frankly disturbing. However, closer examination of the policy documents used by the Department shows that this is just the tip of the iceberg.

The real problem is that the Education Department is on a dunderheaded crusade that puts it in breach of at least two international human rights treaties. At the core is the idea the Department will tell pupils what they can and cannot say or think. This is contrary to every tenet of Australian political freedom.

To be sure, there is no such thing as absolute freedom of speech in Australia. We do have libel laws, and for good reason. However, restrictions on freedom of speech are generally kept to an absolute minimum.

This is in line with the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, Article 18 of which provides: "Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom… to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching."

Article 19 goes even further. It states: "Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference."

Instead, the Education Department has developed a concept of "inclusive education" which deems a student talking about their religious beliefs as some form "discrimination".

Let's be honest here: this is rubbish.

Discrimination is when you unjustly treat one group of people differently from others based, for example, on their race, or gender or religion. If someone says something with which I disagree, it's not discrimination. It's not discrimination, either, if somebody has a different religious belief to mine - in fact it is the mark of a free society.

Let me give you some examples of things which the Education Department thinks need to be banned from discussion in the classroom.

In one document, the Department banned discussing Nelson Mandela's belief in forgiveness because using the words "blacks" and "whites" might "draw unwanted attention to students within the class".

Another document absurdly suggested that making a Christmas tree decoration to give away to a hospital or aged care home had "the potential to cause concern". The concern, apparently, was that children who were in the religion class might talk about the activity with children who were not!

Does the department really think the best way to end discrimination against minorities is to ban discussing what they believe?

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, guarantees children the right to practice their religion as long as they are not stopping other practising theirs.

Instead, the Education Department thinks it better to strictly control the right to religion and to censor what children are allowed to tell each other.

There used to be no higher political ideal in Australia than for people to be free to speak, think and believe as they wished, and to exchange their views with others. Now we are presented with the bleak vision of a society in which the exchange of thoughts is dangerous, and where we are free to believe in nothing unless it is sanctioned by the state.

What a miserable world this will be.

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This article was first published on the Brisbane Times.

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About the Author

Bill O'Chee is a former National Party Senator for Queensland.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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