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Attendance in religious education classes in Victoria (Australia) has dropped 99%
Now that the once-mandatory classes are voluntary and outside of school hours, only a handful of students are taking them
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Nearly a decade after the state of Victoria in southeastern Australia ended mandatory “special religious instruction” classes (that were effectively a form of Christian indoctrination), almost no one is choosing to take those classes on their own.
It coincides with a remarkable shift away from organized religion in Australia.
Just consider what was happening a decade ago: In 2013, Australian public schools offered these SRI classes that were theoretically supposed to teach kids about the beliefs of all different faiths. In many schools, however, the religious education was primarily Christian and it veered into indoctrination. There was no shortage of stories of volunteers using their time with students to make converts rather than objectively explaining their faith.
In 2013, nearly 93,000 Victorian students were enrolled in special religious instruction, in which religious groups taught students about Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism or the Bahá’í faith.
Again, while other religions were included in the mix, these classes were primarily Christian. These are just some examples of what “instruction” looked like for elementary school children, courtesy of Access Ministries, which at one time was the main provider of religious instruction in Victoria schools:
None of that is educational. It’s Sunday School material, not useful information.
That began to change in 2011, when what had been an “opt out” system (where parents had to take action to remove their kids from those religious classes) became an “opt in” system instead.
Then, in 2015, under progressive premier Daniel Andrews, those 30-minute weekly SRI classes that took place during school hours were moved to lunch periods and before/after school in order to make room for more important classes. (Students still had to take a class in faith and ethics, but it was far more objective and less centered around any one religion.)
In short, the kids who took those religious indoctrination classes were the kids whose parents really wanted them to take it. It was voluntary. It took place outside normal school hours. Everyone else moved on.
Now we can quantify just how many students moved on: Damn near all of them.
In 2018, 1487 students across 71 government schools were receiving special religious instruction classes, according to the Education Department’s last count. But the only two special religious instruction providers still operating in state schools say there are now about 750 students.
They went from 93,000 students taking those classes in 2013 to a mere 750 in 2023.
That’s a drop-off rate of over 99%.
And parents, rather than getting upset about it, have embraced it. When the political party opposing Daniels vowed to bring SRI back to school if they won control of government in 2018, they lost several seats. They have since ditched that part of their platform in an effort to win over more voters.
That’s not the only evidence that organized religion is in steep decline throughout Australia.
The last census revealed that “No Religion” is well on its way to becoming the largest “faith” group in the country:
Among younger Australians, 46% of Millennials have no religion, compared to 30% of Baby Boomers. And nearly half of Australians ages 18-24 don’t trust religious leaders “at all.” (The fact that religious indoctrination is no longer a required part of their education certainly won’t slow down those trends.)
Then there’s politics: Voters in Australia kicked out their overly religious Prime Minister Scott Morrison in the last election. In addition to all that, since the 2016 census, marriage equality was legalized, creating yet another reason for people to run the hell away from traditional faith as more Australians realized their sense of moral decency was incompatible with the bigoted views of the most powerful religious groups in the country. The nation has also seen similar controversies play out regarding euthanasia and abortion, with the conservative religious views losing in every instance. There have also been plenty of scandals involving the most prominent Christian preachers, including Brian Houston of Hillsong.
At this point, Christianity is just a brand in desperate need of a reboot. It’s associated with so much of what’s wrong in the country. And when students, who no longer have to take religious indoctrination classes, are correctly taught that morality isn’t tied to religion, much less one particular version of it, we shouldn’t be surprised when very few of them willingly choose faith.