If there’s one thing I have learned from more than 40 years of community activism, it’s that you can never let up.

Broadly speaking, Australia is more tolerant than it was. On paper at least, we have won many of our battles for acceptance as full and equal members of society. And we have done it by making thoroughgoing nuisances of ourselves.

To many it seems as if we can now relax a little. We are on the down slope. The tide of history is flowing our way. And yet …

There’s an epidemic of depression, suicide and self-harm among our young people. And if the research were done, I suspect we’d find a similar catalogue of despair among our seniors.

A lot of shouting and pushing has led to a dawning recognition of this problem by state and federal governments. Money — rivers of it — are beginning to flow to programs to tackle the youth mental health crisis. A battle won. A big tick. But …

With one hand, governments hand out money to tackle depression, self-harm and suicide among non-straight kids, but with the other, they sign the cheques that prop up faith-based schools, missionary-style religious instruction classes and school chaplains.

Their agendas are covertly or overtly hostile to gays, lesbians, intersex and transgender folk. They are the major generators and perpetuators of the guilt, self-doubt and self-hatred afflicting our kids.

Blind Freddie can see this is not how you do public health. You do not eradicate cholera by treating sufferers with rehydration therapy. You do it by cleaning up the water supply so the disease isn’t around to be caught in the first place.

Governments wouldn’t need to spend a motza on improving the mental health of our kids if they weren’t being driven to despair in the first place. If they weren’t being ‘educated’ in Jewish, Catholic, Islamic and other faith-based schools.

If they could take their worries to trained mental health professionals instead of well-meaning but amateur chaplains. If they were taught about all the religions of the world, instead of being told to believe in only one or face an eternity in hell.

State and federal governments must stop funding this dangerous nonsense. We can’t prevent people spending their own money to warp and damage the minds of their children, but we sure as hell shouldn’t be handing them ours. Religion belongs in churches, mosques or synagogues, not schools.

This is the next big battle, and it will mark our coming of age as a community. Because the acid test of a sustainable community is how well it looks after its most vulnerable, especially its children.

This is the mother of all battles, and we have to win.

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