In consideration of the concern displayed by many parents into the outing of Hillsong’s brazen declaration that they plan to try and harvest Australian public schools in 2020, it is important that parents, carers and schools are aware of other organisations that are intent on entering our public schools outside of state legislative provisions for religious instruction.
One such organisation is Life Choices Foundation (LCF) active in Australia and New Zealand. Despite its sanitised marketing, make no bones about it, LCF is a Christian organisation. Its founder Andrew ‘Fishtail’ Fisher is also the founder of the Jesus Racing Team.
- Life Choices Foundation (LCF) is a Christian organisation, despite its marketing attempt to not appear as one.
- Life Choices Foundation (LCF) and the Jesus Racing Team (JRT) are not approved by the NSW Minister for Education to provide SRE in NSW public schools.
- LCF’s It’s your life, so, make it count program both implicitly and explicitly promotes Christianity. Therefore, both LCF and Jesus Racing can only enter NSW public schools in accordance with the Other Activities of a Religious Nature in Schools Procedure. This means that only students with express consent from parents and carers can take part in LCF’s programs or have contact with the JRT and proselytising is not permitted.
- Given that LCF and the JRT are not approved SRE providers, the engagement of either organisation by schools must also be carried out in accordance with the Controversial Issues in Schools Policy and its implementation procedures.
- Parents, carers and others can use the letter at the end of this blog to inform principals and schools of the true intentions of LCF.
In NSW, there are three ways LCF and Jesus Racing may try to gain access to public school students –
- during the time allocated to SRE
- as a ‘curriculum related program’
- as a ‘voluntary student activity of a religious nature in schools’. (VSA)
Let’s look at each one in turn.
This should not be happening.
Life Choices Foundation and Jesus Racing are not authorised to provide SRE in NSW Government schools. They are not found on the list of approved SRE providers.
Furthermore, FIRIS does not believe it is appropriate for approved SRE providers to delegate their authorisation to provide SRE particularly given their ‘annual assurance’ that they are complying with child protection legislation. However, given the Department of Education’s complicity in throwing open public school gates to religious organisations, the seeming widespread ignorance of policies and procedures relating to SRE and the activities of religious organisations amongst principals, and the eagerness of those religious organisations to exploit those opportunities who knows what is going on.
For example, last year during our audits of schools websites FIRIS found one school referring to Jesus Racing as an approved SRE provider clearly demonstrating the lack of awareness of policies and procedures at the school level. In response to our questions, the Department wrote –
As a ‘curriculum related program’
In NSW, the Other Activities of a Religious Nature in Schools Procedure state regarding curriculum-related programs with a religious base –
When considering the use of external curriculum-related programs that have been developed by a religious persuasion, principals must ensure that these programs do not implicitly or explicitly promote that persuasion. Programs that promote a particular religious’ persuasion should be considered SRE and are unsuitable for instruction outside the provisions for SRE. [Section 1.2] (emphasis added)
However, principals may be let off the hook here a little because LCF’s website does not mention its promotion of a ‘particular religious persuasion’, or its evangelical intent. The LCF website states –
Presented by Andrew Fisher, to over 250,000 students, and delivered under the Welfare & Wellbeing Curriculum, the Life Choices High School Program challenges teenagers to stop and think through the consequences of some of life’s significant choices, for themselves. It encourages them to choose the path that is ‘right’ for them. The Program provides evidence-based information and real-life stories that inspire young people to stand firm in the face of difficulties and negative influences. [emphasis added]
Parents and carers should note that FIRIS has been unable to identify the ‘Welfare and Wellbeing Curriculum’ LCF is referring to. We can only hope that LCF are not attempting to create a false appearance of legitimacy and authorisation.
The only mention of Jesus found by FIRIS is in a downloadable brochure which mentions that Andrew ‘Fishtail’ Fisher established the Jesus Racing Team. Whether principals can be excused for not reading between the lines FIRIS will leave it up to readers to decide, but a reasonable member of the Australian public might be justified in thinking that this is a devious manoeuvre by LCF to get past principals and to gain access to students where the mask can be removed.
As a ‘voluntary student activity of a religious nature in schools’ (VSA)
The Department’s Other Activities of a Religious Nature in Schools Procedure states clearly that VSA are not part of SRE but may take under the auspices and supervision of the principal. VSA include talks organised by visitors and the ‘distribution of religious materials to students‘. The document goes on to say that principals in their supervision of VSA must ensure that
- parental permission is obtained
- appropriate child protection checks and practices in relation to any volunteers coming from outside the school
- the content of the activities undertaken are monitored
- an attendance register for all students participating is maintained
- “students or members of religious persuasions do not engage in attempts to proselytise or convert non-adherents of their religion to their faith during school authorised activities. Proselytising or converting non-adherents refers to behaviours intended to put pressure on students who do not have permission to participate in VSA.”
It is in the materials distributed to students that LCF drops its mask and its true intentions are made clear.
FIRIS was recently sent a copy of the booklet accompanying the It’s your life. So, make it count. program handed out to students in a NSW secondary school.
The booklet covers issues such as smoking, drinking, drugs, social media, road safety, relationships, values and beliefs. Over the first 30 pages these issues are discussed with little, to no, mention of religion, beyond the reported importance of ‘cultivating religiousness and spirituality’. There is little mention of a single, specific religious belief apart from the following statements –
Whilst the mention of religion or spirituality can cause conflict, the reality is most of the values that we hold to as a Western Society have come from faith groups, particularly the Christian faith. To ignore the origin is akin to plagiarism. [p. 27]
– and –
The reality is, whether we like it or not teachings that have come predominately from the Christian worldview, whilst seemingly unpopular today, do seem to provide a balance. [p. 28]
However, things begin to change on page 33.
On a page headed ‘values and beliefs’ a list of value statements are provided (see image below) and students are asked if we can “separate them from the person that created them and made them so critical to our society?”, that is, Jesus.
The following pages then go on to explain “what made Jesus so significant and influential”.
A page of ‘helpful links’ includes a photo of the Bible Society sponsored Jesus Racing supercar and a link to the Jesus Racing website and the back cover encourages students to get the booklet signed by Jesus Racing ‘personality’ Andrew ‘Fishtail’ Fisher.
It is important that principals are aware before engaging Life Choices Foundation that they have specific responsibilities in relation to the discussion of controversial issues in NSW public schools. These are outlined not only in the documents mentioned above, but in the Controversial Issues in Schools Policy and its supporting Procedures (CIS Procedures).
Teachers and other school staff should also be aware that they have responsibilities in accordance with the CIS Policy including viewing presentations and materials used by visitors and external providers prior to the event to determine appropriateness and advising their principal on the content.
So what do the CIS Policy and its Procedures say.
Firstly, the CIS Policy makes it very clear that –
Discussion of controversial issues in schools should allow students to explore a range of viewpoints and not advance the interest of any particular group. [1.3.2]
The CIS Procedures also state clearly that –
Material…that advances the interest of any particular group, political or otherwise, must not be distributed to students. 
FIRIS believes that the booklet mentioned above does not present students with a range of viewpoints and that it is a part of program to advance the interest of a particular group.
Furthermore, the CIS Procedures also make it very clear that –
Schools are not places to proselytise, that is, to convert students who are not already members of a particular belief system to become members of that belief system. [1.1]
FIRIS will leave it up to the reader to decide whether the pages shown above constitute ‘proselytising’ or not.
Secondly, the CIS Policy states that –
Where outlined in the procedures, parents and carers should be informed about the participation of their children in delivery of curriculum, events, excursions, school programs or activities addressing controversial issues. [1.3.7]
The CIS Procedures also state that parents/carers must be informed of the proposed content, including materials to be used, and that they must be provided with the opportunity to either consent to or withdraw their child from the presentation, event, program or activity. Schools must also retain all returned consent or withdrawal forms in accordance with the CIS Procedures [2.1]
Section 3 of the CIS Procedures also state –
It is essential that principals maintain communication with parents and carers on teaching and learning programs, visiting speakers, external providers and other school activities, including student organised activities, in which controversial issues may be addressed. Parents and carers need to be advised of the specific details of school activities, programs or events addressing controversial issues and the relevance to the curriculum and school programs and activities. Where advice is appropriate, it must be given prior to the occasion so parents and carers can provide consent or withdraw their child from a particular session(s) on controversial issues. The parental right to withdraw their child must be respected.
Thirdly, with regard to the distribution of materials, principals need to be aware that the CIS Procedures state –
All materials to be referenced or distributed to students that include controversial issues are to be reviewed and approved by the principal in advance…The principal may delegate the task of reviewing the material to an appropriate member of the teaching staff and make a judgment on the basis of the teacher’s feedback. This responsibility cannot be delegated to people from outside the school, including the publishers of material for use in the school or on school excursions. The principal cannot delegate the task of approving materials for distribution. [2.6]
FIRIS sent the following letter and two attachments to all NSW secondary school principals on Tuesday 11 February 2020 –
Parents, carers and others in NSW can share this information the P&C Association of their child/ren’s, or local, school/s and request that the letter is tabled and discussed at the next meeting of the P&C .
Parents and carers in other states where LCF and the JRT are active can adapt the document below and bring the true intentions of the LCF to the attention of the Principal in their child/ren’s, or their local, school.