Government officials within the Australian state of Queensland have proposed a policy that would ban Christmas cards, references to Jesus, and anything else that could be seen as evangelizing on public schoolyards.
A recent Department of Education report expresses concerns that total religious freedom has subjected non-religious children to the Christian beliefs of their peers, the Australian reported.
According to the policy, school administrators are expected “to take appropriate action” if they find students who are receiving “religious instruction” have been evangelizing to those who do not. Examples of evangelizing, according to the report, include exchanging Christmas cards themed with Jesus’ birth or life, making bracelets to share “the good news about Jesus,” and crafting religious-themed ornaments.
The study determined that leaving such evangelization unchecked “could adversely affect the school’s ability to provide a safe, supportive, and inclusive environment.”
This recent initiative follows efforts from Queensland Education Minister Kate Jones, who has promised to quell religious expression, according to the Daily Mail. Some faith leaders, though, are concerned the politician has gone too far.
Neil Foster, who teaches religion and law at Newcastle University, told the Australian he finds the developments both “deeply concerning” and “possibly illegal.”
“The fact is, there are administrative guidelines that go beyond what the law requires,” he said. “It’s really overreaching as far as bureaucratic orders go.”
And Peter Kurti, a senior research fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies, described the Education Department’s actions as “a massive assault on freedom of speech and freedom of religion” that could have unintended consequences.
“I don’t think people are on the whole affronted by the handing out of Christmas cards,” he said. “And I don’t think that children have the maturity to comprehend let alone evangelize.”
For her part, Jones tried to calm any concerns about the reports on the so-called “Jesus ban.” She said Thursday there have been no official changes to religious instruction policy in the state.
“No one is telling a child what they can and can’t say in the playground,” Jones explained, per Sky News. “There has been no change to the religious instruction policy in state schooling.”
Nevertheless, some local politicians have rebuked the state government for entertaining the policy. Politicians Andrew Wallace and Ted O’Brien have slammed the proposal.
O’Brien, a Christian, told the Sunshine Coast Daily that such a crackdown on religious freedom is akin to that of a “totalitarian, communist government.” He urged the public to make clear that such policies are unacceptable.
“What’s the next step?” he asked. “Will they tell kids they can’t go to school and say ‘Happy Christmas?’”
Wallace called the proposal an “absolute disgrace” and “not only morally and ethically bereft, chances are it may be unconstitutional as it seeks to restrict freedom of religion and the implied right of freedom of speech.”