Please listen to Michael Kirby’s lecture, ‘Public education and the third great principle of secularism’ in the 2011 Bob Meyenn Lecture at Charles Sturt University (CSU) in Albury-Wodonga.
The Honourable Michael Kirby, AC CMG and former Australian High Court judge, will appeal for the traditional place of secularism in Australian public schools, and the protection it offers children who have no religion as well as those who are members of a religion.
“When the Education Acts were introduced in the 1880s, they embraced three great principles that lie at the core of the objective to bring education to children across Australia: education would be free, education would be compulsory, and education would be secular,” Mr Kirby said.
“In recent years, there has been a decline in respect for secularism. This is seen in opposition expressed to providing secular ethics in public schools as more school children elect not to attend religious scripture in schools. At present, they are subject to child minding rather than broadening their minds to address ethical questions they will face as citizens. There has also been a huge increase in funding by successive federal governments to place chaplains in public schools.
“Secularism protects people of religion and people of no religion. The latter should not feel uncomfortable or out of place in a public school. They should not feel guilty about not adhering to a religion. In fact, secularism was one of the great constitutional gifts of the English to the world.
“The alternative is commonly religious intolerance and rejection of contrary beliefs.
“I believe we should return to the tradition of secularism in Australian society, particularly in Australia’s public schools,” Mr Kirby concludes.