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Faith-based Religious Education Has No Place in Public Schools


Event Status

By the late 19th century, all Australian colonies had decreed that education must be compulsory, free and secular. By the middle of the twentieth century, ‘secular’ had gone out of fashion, seeing special religious instruction in all states. Today most primary schools in Australia must allow for special religious instruction.

In this incendiary first debate of 2014, our speakers will examine what it means to move away from the secular model and towards a spiritual one; debating the merits of our current model of volunteer church run instruction, as opposed to a balanced study of comparative religions, and contesting where such religious instruction sits within the central tenet of Australian democracy – the separation of church and state. Participants will include Professor Marion Maddox, author of Taking God to School: The End of Australia’s egalitarian education?, award-winning author David Vann, Baptist Minister and World Vision Australia CEO Tim Costello, Dr Justine Toh, author and columnist Nick Cater and Professor Peter Sherlock.

Was the old legislation insisting on secularity out of touch with modern times, or is it more relevant than ever? Is it possible to teach children about the importance of faith without proselytising, and if so, where should the boundaries be drawn?

Chair: Michael Williams

For the proposition: Professor Marion Maddox, David Vann, Professor Peter Sherlock

Against the proposition: Tim Costello, Dr Justine Toh, Nick Cater

Tweet at this event: #iq2oz


Pre-debate poll
For: 65%
Against: 25%
Undecided: 10%

Post-debate poll
For: 71%
Against: 27%
Undecided: 2%

Intelligence Squared Debates

The Intelligence Squared debates rage on in 2014 with a whole new range of topics as compelling as they are polarising. The Wheeler Centre and St James Ethics Centre join forces once more to bring a series of contentious propositions to Melbourne Town Hall. In these highly participatory debates, once both sides have had their say, the decision as to who emerges victor lies entirely in your hands.


Michael Williams

Michael Williams joined Sydney Writers’ Festival in September 2020, as the Artistic Director navigating the post-pandemic landscape going into the 2021 festival. He has spent the past decade at the Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas in Melbourne; as its founding Head of Programming in 200... Read more

Justine Toh

Justine is senior research fellow at the Centre for Public Christianity. She worked as a researcher and presenter with both Reuters Australia and Fairfax Digital Media before completing her doctorate in cultural studies at Sydney’s Macquarie University in 2009. Justine is a popular public speaker ... Read more

David Vann

David Vann is an internationally bestselling author published in nineteen languages. He is the winner of fourteen prizes, and his books (Legend of a Suicide, Caribou Island, Dirt, A Mile Down, Goat Mountain and Last Day On Earth) have appeared on seventy Best Books lists in a dozen countries. He is ... Read more

Peter Sherlock

Professor Peter Sherlock is the vice-chancellor of the University of Divinity. He is an historian of religious belief and practice in Europe and Australia, writes a column on religious issues for The Conversation, and is a member of the Anglican Church.

Marion Maddox

Marion Maddox is a Professor of Politics at Macquarie University in Sydney. She holds PhDs in Theology (Flinders, 1992) and Political Philosophy (UNSW, 2000) and has taught in both Religious Studies and Politics Departments and held distinguished research fellowships in Australia and overseas. In 20... Read more

Tim Costello

Tim Costello is one of Australia’s most sought after voices on issues of social justice, leadership and ethics. Since 2004, Tim has been CEO of World Vision – Australia’s largest international development agency. Trained in economics, law, education and theology, Tim has practised law, served ... Read more

Nick Cater

Nick Cater is a journalist, author and visiting fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies. He is a former editor of the Weekend Australian and held senior editorial roles at the Daily Telegraph and the Sunday Telegraph. Born in Britain, he began his career at the BBC, making the decision to migra... Read more


Melbourne Town Hall

90-120 Swanston Street Melbourne Victoria 3000

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