The Reverend Fred Nile MLC is leader of the Christian Democratic Party in Australia. In a letter to a major Australian newspaper on the subject of ethics classes as an alternative to Special Religious Instruction in Australia schools, he wrote of the opponents to his proposed bill:
They wrongly believe that when Sir Henry Parkes introduced free and ''secular'' state education, he meant ''non-Christian'' or ''non-religious''. That was never his intention. In the 1880s, ''secular'' was used to prohibit denominational teaching in NSW classrooms, not scripture classes, which Parkes decreed should fill one hour per day.
Parkes was an Australian statesman whose career spanned the last half of the 1800s.
I found it odd that the word "secular" could be used this way 150 years ago, and checked its etymology.
secular late 13c., "living in the world, not belonging to a religious order," also "belonging to the state," from O.Fr. seculer, from L.L. saecularis "worldly, secular," from L. saecularis "of an age, occurring once in an age," from saeculum "age, span of time, generation," probably originally cognate with words for "seed," from PIE base *se(i)- "to sow" (cf. Goth. mana-seþs "mankind, world," lit. "seed of men"). Used in ecclesiastical writing like Gk. aion "of this world" (see cosmos). It is source of Fr. siècle. Ancient Roman ludi saeculares was a three-day, day-and-night celebration coming once in an "age" (120 years).
That doesn't seem to support the claim.
What reason is there to believe that Parkes intended Australian education to be (a) Christian but non-denominational, as Nile claims, or (b) secular, in the modern (?) non-religious sense, as his opponents claim?