Mayor says ‘Hillsong not welcome’ in our schools
YARRA City Council's mayor has weighed into a stoush about Christian megachurch Hillsong's push into schools, saying they are not welcome in the progressive and inclusive municipality.
Hillsong's global senior pastor Brian Houston, described as Prime Minister Scott Morrison's mentor, unveiled a program of school visits around Australia this year.
The evangelical church said the planned national Hillsong Youth Schools Tour for 2020, was "designed to help strengthen the hearts and minds of students of all walks of life across Australia".
Participation among schools is voluntary. Hillsong said the cost of the program was about $2000 and if schools wanted to chip in they could.
But, after a backlash which includes a petition now running at around 26,600 signatures and directed at Federal education minister Dan Tehan, Hillsong pulled down the information from its website late last year.
The petition was started by a Melbourne mother who said she was against what she saw as "proselytising in schools".
Ms Fiona Newton, from Fitzroy, said with school about to resume she was stepping up her push which includes a Keep Hillsong Out of our Schools Facebook page.
She said it was important that parents engage with their schools to ensure that they do not sign up for the Hillsong program.
"A lot of government schools don't have a lot of cash so when someone like Hillsong comes along offering something they often accept," she said.
"Concerned parents need to make it clear with their principal that they are not comfortable with this kind of tour coming into the school with an agenda to recruit to their church and indoctrinate."
Ms Newton, in a same-sex marriage and with a three-year-old child, said she did not want her child to go to a school that welcomed Hillsong.
She said people should feel free to send their children to government schools without the fear of being preached to by the likes of Hillsong.
Yarra mayor Cr Misha Coleman wrote to state education minister James Merlino late last year asking if he intended to intervene and, if so, what action he might take.
Yesterday Yarra's Cr Steve Jolly said the municipality, which takes in Fitzroy, Clifton Hill, Richmond and Abbotsford, was an inclusive community.
Cr Jolly brought the matter to the attention at the council in a question without notice at a meeting before Christmas, saying that it was an important issue for a municipality in which many marginalised groups lived.
"We are the hub, the centre for gays and lesbians in terms of nightclubs and venues and we have to stand in solidarity with them," he said.
Cr Jolly said young people, struggling with coming out and facing a high suicide risk, did not need to be exposed to the teachings of Hillsong.
"This is a bread-and-butter issue for Yarra," he said.
The Federal electorate of Melbourne, which takes in the municipality, had the highest Yes vote in the same sex marriage referendum with 83.7 per cent of respondents supporting the move.
Hillsong told the Herald Sun that the Hillsong offering was similar to various optional activities offered to students.
"Hillsong - like many other outside organisations - has for many years created programs that provide students with positive values and in many situations these don't even mention Christianity," a Hillsong statement said.
"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."
It was unclear if any Victorian schools had taken up the offer but there had been sessions in Queensland schools.
Ms Newton said while Hillsong may argue semantics about the word Christianity it was a recruitment drive.
In the promotional material that has subsequently been removed, Hillsong says the Hillsong Youth initiative as being "designed to help strengthen and develop the hearts and minds of students from all walks of life across Australia".
"Our heart is that this message would not be contained to the four walls of the church, but that it would light up the darkest places in our schools and ultimately the lives of young people".