Over 18,000 people have signed a Melbourne mum’s petition to stop Hillsong Church from preaching to public school students on a planned national “Schools Tour”.
The megachurch has removed a page from its website detailing the planned tour of NSW, Victoria, Queensland and NT schools in 2020.
The church claims to have given “life-giving messages about our Lord” to 34,000 high school students. The deleted page featured testimonials from three Queensland public schools.
Mum Fiona Newton, who is in a same-sex relationship, is petitioning Australia’s Education Ministers to ban the church from “proselytising” to students.
She said Hillsong had a history of anti-LGBTIQ views and she wants to protect her young son from anti-LGBTIQ messages when he starts school.
“I want my son to be able to go to a school without being affected by messages like that,” Ms Newton told SBS News.
“Hillsong’s mission is to recruit people to their organisation.
“I also want to feel safe that my son’s not going to school to be indoctrinated into a religion.”
‘Strengthen and develop the hearts and minds of students’
Hillsong claimed on its website the Schools Tour is “designed to help strengthen and develop the hearts and minds of students”.
“Our heart is that this message of hope and freedom would not be contained to the four walls of the church,” the church said.
“But that it would light up the darkest places in our schools and ultimately the lives of young people.”
Activities include “live praise and worship music, engaging games and activities with an inspiring Gospel message”.
However Newton describes this as “proselytism [that] should not be allowed in Australian schools.”
She said Hillsong founder Brian Houston is under NSW Police investigation for failing to report his father’s alleged child sex abuse as a minister.
Newton plans to give the petition to federal and state education ministers. She urged concerned parents to contact school principals.
Hillsong defends ‘Schools Tour’
In a statement to SBS, a spokesperson for Hillsong defended the tour’s activities as “always optional”.
“Hillsong – like many other outside organisations – has for many years created programs that provide students with positive values,” the spokesperson said.
“In many situations these don’t even mention Christianity. These are done in student time and are always optional.
“We have never had a complaint and our involvement is totally at the discretion of each school.”
The three Queensland schools listed by Hillsong on their website receive funding under the federal government’s National School Chaplaincy Program, according to 7News.com.au.
The program stipulates that the program’s chaplains must not proselytise.
The chaplains must also “respect, accept and be sensitive to other people’s views, values and beliefs”.
A spokesperson from Queensland’s Education Department said each school principal determines, in consultation with their school community, the programs offered to students.
“Participation in such activities is not compulsory and completely optional,” she said.
“State schools respect the background and beliefs of all students and staff by not promoting, or being perceived as promoting, any particular set of beliefs in preference to another.”
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