READ THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE HERE (23 March 2014 by Amy McNeilage)

Many public schools still recite Christian prayers at assemblies, despite the concerns of parents who say the education system should be secular.

NSW public schools are allowed to write or use Christian or multi-faith prayers in consultation with their community, according to Education Department policy.

President of the NSW Primary Principals’ Association Geoff Scott says school prayers are ”more common than not” but they do not have the same prominence they once did.

”It is certainly not something that is a feature in public schools because that’s not what the public education system is about,” he said.

But for some parents such as Kersten Tuckey, religious practices have no place in public schools.

Ms Tuckey withdrew her daughter from Kororo Public School on the north coast after parents voted to retain the school prayer last year.

”We’re not anti-religious, we just think a public school should be inclusive for all kids,” she said. ”If they want to have a religious prayer it should be said in scripture or prayer groups, but not during a core school activity like assemblies.”

Department policy says children of parents who object to school prayers should be supervised in another area of the school.

Ms Tuckey moved her daughter to a neighbouring school that does not have prayers because she did not want her to be ”kicked out of assembly for the next five years”.

”I’m more than happy for our daughter to learn about religions but we don’t want her to be taught what to believe,” she said.

Religious affiliation among the Korora community is lower than the state average, according to the most recent census data.

Yet a spokesman for the department said Kororo Public School parents ”overwhelmingly supported keeping the prayer”.

The debate also surfaced at Singleton Public School, where the school’s prayer was reviewed last year but remains in use.

Southern Cross University sociology of religion expert Cathy Byrne said public school prayers were inappropriate in a multicultural, multi-faith and increasingly non-religious society.

”It’s a matter of being aware of the students you’re servicing and also the society you’re trying to create,” she said. ”If you’re continuing with a divisive activity then it needs to be questioned, reviewed or removed.”

She said there would be ”outcry” if, for example, a predominantly Islamic community introduced a Muslim prayer at its public school.

Greenacre Public School principal Ross Cleary said there was ”no way” his school would have a Christian prayer, given 90 per cent of his 760 students were Muslim.

While many primary schools had a prayer, NSW Secondary Principals’ Council president Lila Mularczyk said it was not common in public high schools.


The students of many, equal gods

Some days the students at John Colet School pray to Allah. Other days they recite Sanskrit verses, sing Christian hymns or practice meditation.

The northern beaches private school covers many faiths, from Sufi to Sikh, Bah’ai to Buddhist, as well as writings from poets and philosophers.

”Our aim is that children get the feeling all religions are pretty much saying the same thing,” headmaster Gilbert Mane said. ”You need a proper harmonious relationship with God, as well as a responsible relationship with your fellow men, women, environment and animals. All the religions basically tell you how to do that.”

”I want my daughter to be accepting of everybody,” said Melinda Hakin, whose daughter Carys is in year 5 at John Colet. ”I’ve got a few friends with children in public schools and they have to choose a certain religion [for scripture] and I would hate for my child to be forced into a stream.”

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