No clear boundary between religion and politics (as it should be)

This campaign [to allow Biblical instruction in government schools of Queensland in 1910] stemmed from religious belief and was expressed in both a religious and a political way. By being sensitive to the influence of personal belief on political actions, we can see that the Bible in state schools campaign was not merely a cynical political exercise where a church or churches sought more power. It was part of the mission of the Protestant churches to create God’s Kingdom on earth.

The Bible in State Schools issue demonstrates how Queensland’s politics of the time were intertwined with religious concerns and how Queensland’s churches were actively engaged in the politics of the State. This supports the assertions of Melissa Bellanta and Frank Borgiorno, both of whom argue that there was no clear boundary between religion and politics.

Quote source

Perkins, Y, (2010). Queensland’s Bible in State Schools Referendum 1910: A Case Study of Democracy. [BA thesis, University of Sydney], pp. 94-95

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A case study in church-supported activism

The [Bible in State Schools] League …[launched] their campaign in churches on Sunday 30 January 1910. This was advertised in The Brisbane Courier [newspaper] as a ‘day of prayer for divine guidance for this movement’. Over three hundred and sixty clergymen were named in the advertisement as supporters of the day.

In a flyer printed by the League, the Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist and German Lutheran churches were listed as supporters of what was known as ‘Bible in State Schools Sunday’. Regarding this day, the religious newspaper, The Australian Christian World, stated, ‘[t]his will perhaps convince those who have regarded the movement as a political one that it is a religious movement, based on the highest principles’.

The Bible in State Schools Sunday featured two other elements of the League’s campaign: the use of sermons to promote their cause and prayer…

Rev. [D.J] Garland and the Bible in State Schools League achieved a remarkable result in their campaign for religious instruction and Bible reading in state schools by persuading a majority of voters to pass the Referendum.

Quote source

Perkins, Y, (2010). Queensland’s Bible in State Schools Referendum 1910: A Case Study of Democracy. [BA thesis, University of Sydney], pp. 25-26, 98

The people favoured religious instruction above all else

Another means by which Queenslanders participated in deciding whether religious instruction should be reintroduced in the state’s schools [back in 1910] was through letters to newspaper editors. Both the labour newspaper, The Worker, and The Brisbane Courier hosted lively debates about the subject on their letters pages.

In the month leading up to the Referendum The Brisbane Courier published over forty letters from readers on the subject. In the same period approximately twenty two letters were published on federal issues.

While The Brisbane Courier was in favour of the Bible in State Schools Referendum passing, it is clear that the editor believed that federal matters were of greater importance. The newspaper published far more articles on federal political matters than the religious instruction issue.

It published an eight page section called the ‘Federal Election Special’ five times during the month prior to the election. However, those readers who were inclined to write to the editor were clearly more concerned about the state referendum [concerning religious instruction].

[The referendum was won, and Biblical instruction went ahead]

Quote source

Perkins, Y, (2010). Queensland’s Bible in State Schools Referendum 1910: A Case Study of Democracy. [BA thesis, University of Sydney], pp. 32-33

The value of religious volunteers in political campaigns

The [Bible in State School] League’s campaign [a referendum in 1910 for Biblical instruction in government schools] was not restricted to prayers and sermons. The Protestant religious newspaper, The Australian Christian World, was one of the forums the League used to communicate to its supporters, publishing detailed instructions for the week leading up to the poll and the day of the Referendum.

As previously mentioned, the first instruction was to pray on 10 April. Then volunteers were encouraged to complete house to house canvassing, distribute ‘How to Vote’ papers, erect posters, meet to make arrangements for the day of the Referendum, organise transport for voters who needed it and to collect funds. The use of technology in the League’s campaign is evident in these instructions. Volunteers were requested to send reports to the organising secretary by telegram and use this means to request more ‘How to Vote’ cards if they were needed.

[The referendum was won, and Biblical instruction went ahead.]

Quote source

Perkins, Y, (2010). Queensland’s Bible in State Schools Referendum 1910: A Case Study of Democracy. [BA thesis, University of Sydney], pp. 28-29

The secret weapon of the church

Even though it was a decade ago, I’ve always remembered these remarks by Jennie Chancey:

If a woman is called to singlehood (no desire to marry and bear children), she does not have a lesser role in the church or the community. Indeed, she has a vital role. Single women truly should be the “secret weapon” of the church.

While this next reference was for something from 100 years ago—and while it likely involved married as well as single women—it made me think of the secret weapon reference straight away:

These women were motivated by religious conviction. They wrote to editors of newspapers on the issue [a referendum to allow religious instruction and Bible reading in government schools]. Underlining the religious belief that motivated many supporters of the Bible in State Schools League, ‘H. S. W.’ drew on passages from the Bible to urge women to action in 1906.

Women of Queensland, we are fighting for God’s cause. Come to the front, delay is dangerous. Be not among those women who are at ease in Zion (Isaiah xxxii. 11)’ she urged…

[T]he Vice-president of the Women’s League, A. Maria Cole, also drew on the Bible in her letter arguing for the passing of the Referendum. She concluded by a rallying cry. ‘[V]ote “Yes” for the sake of the children of the country we love, and the Master whom we serve,’ she urged readers of The Brisbane Courier [newspaper].

The Women’s League made their views known in a flyer in which they stated emphatically that the Bible was the source of morality. ‘No other teaching than the Bible can make our children grow up pure, loving, truthful and honest’, they stated….

The Brisbane Courier noted that ‘a feature of the referendum on the question of Bible reading in State schools was the large number of devoted ladies who volunteered to assist at the various booths.’

Quote sources

  1. Chancey, J. (2004). “Are Single Women Not Needed at LAF?”. Ladies Against Feminism. Available http://www.ladiesagainstfeminism.com/artman/publish/Comments_and_Letters_23/Are_Single_Women_Not_Needed_at_LAF_12521001252.shtml. Last accessed 25th Apr 2016.
  2. Perkins, Y, (2010). Queensland’s Bible in State Schools Referendum 1910: A Case Study of Democracy. [BA thesis, University of Sydney], pp. 23-24, 51

Church alliances that led to Biblical victory

The campaign to pass the referendum was led by the Bible in State Schools League, a multi-denominational Protestant organisation created in 1890 with the objective of persuading the Queensland government to reintroduce religious instruction in the state’s schools.

In 1911 Catholics formed 24% of Queensland’s population, Anglicans 35%, Presbyterians 12%, Methodists 10% and Lutherans 4% of the population. This level of Christian diversity meant that no group formed a natural majority and needed to form alliances with other groups if they were to effect change. The Bible in State Schools League reflected this demographic imperative….

A decisive result ensued: 56.7% of voters approved of introducing religious instruction and Bible reading in state schools while 43.3% of voters disapproved. The Referendum passed in 43 of the state’s 61 electorates. The lack of organised opposition presenting a clearly articulated case against the proposition would have been a strong factor contributing to the result….

Without the Bible in State Schools League effectively and persistently applying the pressure, the referendum would never have been held, passed and enacted. Rev. [D.J.] Garland as the outspoken organising secretary had been instrumental in marshalling support from the fractious Protestant churches, parliamentary representatives and the people of Queensland.

Quote source

Perkins, Y, (2010). Queensland’s Bible in State Schools Referendum 1910: A Case Study of Democracy. [BA thesis, University of Sydney], pp. 5, 56-57, 90

Christian schools as a force against humanism

Then came the Christian school movement. Government school enrollments began to decline. There were many reasons. The humanists had been promoting abortion and the myth that the world was being overpopulated. So there just weren’t as many children around to attend the schools. With the Christians pulling their children out of the government schools right and left, the humanists really got frightened.

The teacher unions could count noses (even if some of their students couldn’t add and subtract anymore) and all they could see were declining enrollments. Declining enrollments mean closing schools and losing jobs. The teachers began to worry about job security.

Having alternative Christian schools around was a problem for the humanists in other ways. Parents now had a choice as to whether they would patronize the government schools or send their children to a Christian school. The Christian schools meant an opportunity for parents to compare the quality and the cost. With Christian schools operating at costs far below that of the government schools and producing superior results academically and otherwise, the humanists began to panic.

Quote source

Thoburn, R.L. (1984). The Christian and Politics. 2nd edition. Thoburn Press, Tyler, pp. 26-27