South Australian parents are calling for the abolition of legislation that allows religious education seminars to be held in state schools. SA legislation allows for an average of half a day per term for the seminars. These are run by the South Australian branch of controversial and overtly evangelical religious education provider, Scripture Union.

Parent Tammy Joachin makes the very sensible argument we’ve been hearing around Australia and particularly in Victoria that the legislation allows for one dominating group to exploit their monopoly within public schools.

“It’s actually enabling external groups to come into our state schools and promote one particular world view to the exclusion of all others, and it’s opening the door to evangelism”, she says.

As in Victoria the classes are run on an opt out basis with the familiar problem of students having no meaningful alternative to fill the time otherwise devoted to religious education. S.A. Opposition education minister David Pisoni argues it’s time for a review of the legislation and that it’s also time to remove “any compulsion for religious education in government schools”. S.A. education minister, Jay Weatherill says he’s happy to listen to concerns and – dodging the heart of the problem – runs the tired old spin that the programme remains “optional”.

A most unusual statement given Pisoni is arguing for an end to compulsory R.E. This is also similar to Victoria wherein we hear ACCESS Ministries C.E. Evonne Paddison arguing that “the beauty of” compulsory classes here is that they are “entirely voluntary”. This problem of an opt out system from classes which schools are obligated by legislation to accept, rather than an opt in system seems to be one state governments have difficulty grasping.

Church groups say the seminars allow children to explore Christianity. Scripture Union S.A. deny they try to pressure children into Christianity. They provide for “children to really dig into a topic, understand something of the Christian perspective on those things, and have the opportunity to experience that in a really helpful, hopefully holistic educational way”, says Mark Schultz.