The Problem with Religious Education in Australian Schools

This is a guest posting by Julie Cowe, an American currently living in Melbourne, Australia. She recently emigrated there from Scotland. She’s been blogging for five years and became active in secular issues after learning there are organizations trying get God into American public schools.

Unlike America, Australia has no separation of church and state. Our version of America’s First Amendment is called section 116 which states:

Commonwealth not to legislate in respect of religion:

The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.

This has allowed room for the religious right to get God into the public schools.

The Board of Education has stipulated that schools are required to provide one hour a week to religious education where a school chaplain is available. Not just in religiously affiliated schools, but all government schools. It’s called the National School Chaplaincy Program (NSCP), where people are trained up and placed as Chaplains in our public schools. To put it simply: There are evangelists in the schools, preaching to our children. They get an hour every week to spread the word of God to our kids. This program started in 2007 with promised funding of $165 million over three years to the Chaplaincy program. In November last year, the current government allotted a further $42.8 million to extend the program for another two years. The role of the Chaplain is to offer education in values and ethics and it seems the government feels the Bible is the greatest source for this education. The schools may also use the chaplains as mentors, playground staff, and as a general useful body and extra set of eyes.

A person is not required to hold any particular qualifications to be a Christian Religious Education (CRE) teacher. They don’t need child education qualifications or counseling qualifications — they don’t even require a high school diploma. Chaplains need a Bachelors degree in Theology/Ministry Education or Counseling. The Rationalist Society of Australia questioned the Minister for Education, Julia Gillard, about the Effectivness of Chaplaincy report (PDF) done last year which stated:

… of the 1031 chaplains to respond, at best 132 or 12%, had qualifications at diploma level or above and almost half of those qualifications were in chaplaincy, pastoral care and theology. With only 2.5% qualified in counseling or psychology. Yet the report states that chaplains have been called in to help with children’s anger issues, grief and loss, bullying, peer pressure and self esteem as well as self harm and suicide. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the more devout the chaplain, the less likely they are to refer students to professional services with dire consequences.

They aren’t alone in their criticism. The Greens party also argue the report was flawed, as does the Australian Secular Lobby (ASL).

The UK, which is a Christian country, has a secular religious education which covers seven major religions and is taught from a cultural perspective. It encourages community, understanding of diversity, and an appreciation of the variety of cultures within the country. Australia is not a Christian country, yet it has Christian, Catholic and Jewish religious education in its public state schools which includes prayer and Bible study. You cannot mix the classes; you only get to choose one. (Here in Victoria there is no accepted module for Islam, Hindu, Sikhism, Baha’i or Buddhism so there are no chaplains available.) Most schools get the Protestant curriculum by default and if parents want the other modules for their kids, the parents have to request it from the principal, provided there is a trained Chaplain available.

Parents are able to opt-out their children from the religious education class, however that hour is spent idle. My children are separated for this hour from the rest of the class and given computer time. My 5th grader and her fellow opt-out students are unsupervised for that hour. Some parents have reported their child sat for the hour in empty hallways, alone.

The Australian states all have different ways of approaching the religious education problem. Victoria is trying to get a Humanist curriculum approved, but as is expected, they’re coming up against the typical prejudice. Access Ministries Research director Jenny Stokes said, “If you go there [allowing a Humanist curriculum], where do you stop? What about Witchcraft or Satanism? If you accredit Humanism, then those things would have an equal claim to be taught in schools.” Most of the states have MPs denying that there is evangelizing in schools, despite the obvious proof seen in the recruitment videos by Access Ministries, an organization which trains Chaplains.

I’ve talked with Hugh Wilson of the ASL about their opinions on religious education; “ASL arose, by accident, formed by concerned parents to tackle the increasingly prevalent evangelical religiosity of Queensland state schools. Following close on the heels of school chaplains came hordes of evangelical church volunteers and their Hillsong Church-designed-and-implemented gendered programs. More recently, Christian ‘mentors’ have been allowed to work alone with ‘at risk’ students in state schools. These have included Baptists and other believers, organized by the Baptist centered organization, World Vision. Almost as a mild side distraction, the Queensland Studies Authority, the peak body that decides just what school students learn, declines to ‘design out’ the allowed and practiced teaching of Creationism and Intelligent Design in Queensland state school science classes, or any other class an individual classroom teacher might feel inclined to inject a little ‘religion’ into. All of this has been accepted without question by successive education ministers and premiers, all of whom now promote Queensland as ‘the Smart State’.”

Even more troubling is what happens when the girls go to high school and begin the Shine Program. Shine says it promotes self esteem, confidence and self worth, however one parent (wishing to remain anonymous) claims a different experience (DOC): “…over the next few weeks it became clear that the girls were being urged to adopt the kind of passive/conservative Christian stereotypes that we are all long familiar with: they were being groomed for domestic and spiritual bliss as demure brides of Man and Christ.”

Recently, Ron Williams, a Queensland parent, has embarked upon a course of action which will see a writ being served in the High Court in the not too distant future as to the legality of federal funds being used to support the NSCP. This is an important move, yet the local newspaper, the Courier Mail (Sunday edition), hasn’t printed this online — though they did publish it and you can see a scan of the article here. Williams has taken previous actions against his daughter’s school when a class that was supposed to discuss animals and the noises they made used the Ark story as reference material. Yet Queensland Education states there were “no references to ‘God’ or the biblical story of Noah’s Ark made in Kathleen’s classroom.”

My experience at our daughter’s school initially assured me that the CRE class was “Just some Bible stories with a moral lean. Nothing to worry about.” and had allowed my daughter to be a part of the class. One day she came home and asked me “Did God make the Big Bang?” because that was what her Chaplain had told her. I filed a complaint because cosmology and Creationism do not mix and it was unacceptable for the Chaplain to make such a claim. The outcome was that my daughter had “taken the comments out of context.”

This year I made several phone calls to try and acquire the syllabus for the CRE classes, as I now have both daughters in school and sincerely wanted to know what was involved in the classes. The school refused to supply the curriculum, advising me to contact Access Ministries because they are a separate entity from the schools. Access Ministries gave me a suspicious interrogation — apparently no other parent has ever asked for a copy of what’s being taught to their kids. What I received was what you’d expect in a Sunday school class. The age 5-6 classes get Creationism (unit 4) before they ever get a science class. The 10-11-year-olds get told how much God loves them and wants a personal relationship with each them, and also what to do when they’ve disappointed God by sinning.

This is not religious education. This is the indoctrination of children into the Christian faith with full support of the Australian government, funded by taxpayers. Concerned Australians need to speak to their principals and raise questions with the board of education and challenge their MPs. Challenge all your MPs, not just your affiliated party. Get your MPs to question your Ministers for Education. I’ve found that an email gets a response. As more parents raise concerns, it will provide a stronger argument to push for reform of the Education Act. Find what groups are active in your state and get motivated to find a solution.

  • http://primesequence.blogspot.com/ PrimeNumbers

    The children need to be empowered. Children can easily drive teachers to tears if they know the right things to say, the right questions to ask. Children can get these preachers out of schools or emasculate their power.

  • Delphine

    I agree. These children need to be armed with knowledge so they can toss it back at the religious nuts.

  • GribbletheMunchkin

    Once again we see that religions that try and play nice when forced to, get up to things like child indoctrination if you let them.

    Contrary to the posters opinion of the UK school system, we do have faith schools here and the current labour government (although not for long most likely) pushed and expanded this, mainly to get the muslim vote.

    We have had scandals where creationism was being taught alongside evolution, this seems to have simmered down for now.

    Australia really needs a law passed banning proselytizing, employment of chaplains and pastors, requirements for qualified staff (theology doesn’t count) and a clear school/church divide.

  • Valhar2000

    Primenumbers, do you really think that is what will happen? Let me explain to you how this works in the real world: the child asks an embarrassing question, then the teacher tells them to leave the class, makes fun of them to the other students while they are gone, and reports to the Principal that they were “rude, disrespectful to the teacher and their peers, and highly disruptive”, and then the kid gets detention.

    What is needed is to keep these god-damned kooks as far away from children as is physically possible.

  • http://thinkerspodium.wordpress.com Bruce

    The problem with S116 is that it applies at a Federal level. Public schools are governed under the state constitutions, which have no separation of church and state at all.

    The chaplaincy program, which hopefully will be overturned, is only the beginning. The states have all sorts of programmes that it hands over to religious educators when schools can’t find the funds.

    Pentecostal churches have a couple of programs – particularly Shine (anti-drug) and a sex education program. The latter isn’t taken up very often but the former has been.

    The annoying thing is they will come in, say where they are from. Then say they’re not here to talk about Jesus. Then go through all the uninformative scare-tactics (that don’t work) before claiming that Jesus is the answer – going back on their word.

    As long as there is no federal funding, this is perfectly legal. Which considering the Pentecostal churches do this for free, is a problem.

    In other old news, Victorian public schools were for a while using a questionable anti-smoking curriculum, which was devised by a Liberal (conservative) party apparatchik, funded by Phillip Morris.

    Cash strapped schools, poor protective legislation and crappy state constitutions allow all sorts of stuff into schools. I prefer to view these dodgy programs as opportunistic infections.

  • Kimpatsu

    “The UK, which is a Christian country…”
    Err… No. Britain has an established church, but is one of the most non-religious contries in the world. Calling it Xian is just plain lazy.

  • mkb

    Julie, thanks for educating us. Good luck in your struggle.

  • Aj

    The UK, which is a Christian country, has a secular religious education which covers seven major religions and is taught from a cultural perspective. It encourages community, understanding of diversity, and an appreciation of the variety of cultures within the country.

    It doesn’t encourage an understanding of religions, it’s not an education in comparative religion. It’s as you say, rather overt propaganda that is an attempt to encourage admiration for other people’s religions, even if the means are spin, lies, and omission. Being more forgiving I would say extremely sanitized and incomplete. Not that this should surprise anyone.

  • http://primesequence.blogspot.com/ PrimeNumbers

    Valhar2000, that’s not what happened when I was at school. Anyway, say it did – can you imagine the continued stink it would cause among educated intelligent parents if their kid kept getting sent out for politely asking questions in class?

    Agreed, we need to keep these people away from children, but can you think of any better defence for kids than having a brain and the courage to use it?

  • Miko

    Once you get tired to trying political means which are designed not to work (after all, their ineffectiveness is the only reason that they’re still legal), here are some effective strategies (that is, which have been successfully used in the past) that you might try:

    1. Mass student boycotts. Students are allowed to opt out. Seek solidarity with other students and their parents. If they all opt out, they won’t be in the hall alone. Tell them to bring a book if they need something to do.

    2. Provide an alternative institution, in combination with mass student walk-out if necessary. It sounds like the non-certification of Humanists will make this more difficult, but you could still just ask the students to walk off of the school campus for an hour a day, if necessary. (Here and throughout, add the caveat “even if doing so is illegal” where appropriate. Illegalism is the most effective way to bring about meaningful political change.) Walk-outs have been fantastically successful in the past when practiced at the high school level, but it may not carry over to elementary education. Historically, this one is also the most likely to get you shot. It’s a small risk, but limit yourself to the rest of the list if you’re worried about it.

    3. Mass student exodus. Take the children out of the school and put them in a new school. If there are no better schools, homeschool them. If the state makes this difficult, one strategy is to enroll them in all of the local schools and then withdraw them from each school at sporadic intervals. Hopefully, the state bureaucracy will become overloaded and give up trying to figure out where the student “should be.”

    4. Mass parent walk-ins. Go into the school, sit in on the class. Or stand-in, depending on available seats. The school security will try to tell you that you aren’t allowed to do this. Ignore them. If the cops come, so much the better.

    5. Mass demonstrations outside the school. Contrary to what most people falsely assume, blocking traffic and such while doing this is not effective: it gives the police an excuse to get rid of you and it makes it less likely that you’ll get public support. If you can get the news to show up (this will usually depend on the size of the crowd you can get), do so since it will both increase your publicity and decrease the likelihood that the police will attack you. If you can’t, tell those who come to make sure they bring cell phones with cameras and post the footage on YouTube or equivalent.

    6. Local media shame campaign. Letters to the editor are a good place to start, so long as you don’t call for a political solution. Use your letters to advocate for other forms of direct action.

    7. National/international media shame campaign. Good start on this one above, but, again, to be effective it’s important to focus on nonpolitical solutions. Try to do this in a way that will cost Australia tourism dollars and immigrants (or, whatever type of immigrants the government thinks it wants*).

    * Of course, all immigrants are good for the country, but the state may be stupid enough not to realize this.

    8. Mass student noncompliance: don’t speak in class, don’t turn in homework, don’t go to class, etc. (Not just the hour that you object to; this sort of thing is much more effective when organized as a “general strike.”)

    9. Mass teacher noncompliance. Teachers should ignore lesson plans or refuse to teach. Prolonged strikes tend not to work for teachers, but lightning-strike strategies like sick-ins can be very effective, as the school administrations have to scramble to find a massive number of subs. Get the substitute teachers on board too; this is often even easier than getting the regular teachers on board, as the subs usually have contracts designed to legally allow them to refuse an assignment for any reason.

    10. Mass producer noncompliance. If you’re organizing strikes, no reason to limit it to the schools.

    11. Mass government noncompliance. The above is most effective if you can include a broad swath of government employees. They don’t need to all come from the same office. One or two people from every bureau will be just as effective, if not more so, than all of the people from one bureau. If you can, get them to quit their jobs entirely instead of just striking.

    12. Tax resistance. Some people like to calculate the percentage going to the activity that they dislike and only remit that, but it’s more effective to withhold the entire amount. In the case of churches providing the program for free, the latter is likely to be more effective. Since the government is probably going to notice anyway, I recommend sending them a letter explaining why you aren’t funding their crimes in lieu of sending a check. This is hard to do alone, but if you get a group of concerned citizens who agree to save up the money that the government claims it is owed and use it to help pay legal expenses if the government comes down, it’s usually fairly effective. It’s rarely enough to get the policy changed (unless you can get a LOT of people to join you), but a group that does it in solidarity can usually stand strong enough to convince the government that it’s not worth trying to get the taxes out of you. Check your local laws first. This strategy is risky in the U.S. as Garden Plot (an internal policing act introduced in response to the direct activism of the 1960s) defines tax protesters to be terrorists; combined with attempts by the Obama administration to get anyone it calls a terrorist locked up forever without the need for a trial, tax resistance may become much riskier in the future. One safer alternative is mis-writing your check to the tax bureau, forgetting to sign your tax form if required to do by law, etc. People do it by mistake all the time and eventually sort it out, so it isn’t illegal, but if done by massive numbers of people it could be crippling. (Getting the number of people required to do this on a national level is impractical, of course. But it works well for local taxes.) And it goes without saying that even if you are paying taxes, you should file on the latest date legally allowed.

    13. Mass consumer boycotts. This ties in with international media. Organize a boycott of Australian products. After a while, the corporations will get on the government, and unlike you, they actually can get things accomplished through the political means (since, you know, doing favors for corporations is the whole reason the government exists).

    There are, of course, hundreds more (revolution, etc.), but these are a good starting point. And I fully realize that most of these may be beyond what you’re willing to do (especially since most of them are illegal). That’s fine. But in that case, remember that the myth that government provides you rights is exactly that: a myth. You get your rights by defending your rights, and these strategies represent the culmination of centuries of study on nonviolent ways to defend your rights. If you aren’t willing to do these things, you should stop pretending that you have any rights.

    Many of these will lead to being arrested, typically for short periods. It’s a good idea to arrange child care ahead of time just in case and to keep the amount of money you expect to use in 2-3 months in cash in case your bank accounts are frozen. Also, every once in a while the police will over-react and you may end up dead. This is such a low probability occurrence that I wouldn’t let it stop your activism, but all the same it’s good to have a life-insurance policy (make sure it covers being murdered by the government) and “god-parenting” arrangements set up ahead of time.

  • Miko

    PrimeNumbers: Anyway, say it did – can you imagine the continued stink it would cause among educated intelligent parents if their kid kept getting sent out for politely asking questions in class?

    Precisely none. The school will claim that the child was disruptive. They will also make sure that no one in the class is using a recording device that could gainsay their claim.

    And don’t use your school as an example. Public schools are incredibly diverse in terms of the horrific things that the permit and/or encourage. Perhaps you had a good one or perhaps you’ve just repressed the bad memories. Either way, don’t assume that all schools are good.

  • Ben

    I grew up in Queensland (am still here, actually) attending only state schools, and remember the various religious education (RE) hours happening at the ones I attended. This ranged from opting out and spending the hour sitting on the floor chatting, to free time in the library, to forced inclusion with the threat of punishment. In one school (thankfully I was only there for 6 months) when I was about 10 years old, I was hounded so badly by a teacher in RE, to draw a picture of some guy nailed to some cross, that I cried and refused to attend school for the rest of the week.

    The chaplaincy program, which hopefully will be overturned …

    Not by this federal governemnet. If Steve Fielding, a self admitted young earth creationist, is to be believed, our current PM is even more religious than he is. Apparently, and Fielding said this on the Q&A program a few weeks ago, on their first meeting the PM pulled out a bible and started quoting scripture.

    This is why more money has been dedicated to the chaplaincy program: our PM is the most religious we’ve seen yet, a fact that has been completely missed by the media.

  • http://primesequence.blogspot.com/ PrimeNumbers

    Miko, if atheists are as common in Australia as elsewhere, I think enough fuss can be caused this way. The school can claim things, but like most people, teachers and schools don’t want bother. They don’t want publicity, they don’t want the media calling asking questions. The just want to teach.

  • http://pmhewitt.wordpress.com paula

    we have three kids in a state school in Queensland. we gave them all the choice to opt out of RE after grade one. the oldest two have opted out – the youngest is yet to experience the joy of RE. At our school the kids who opt out get to do other work -complete homework, read novels (swapping fiction for fiction!) which suits the boys fine.

    the older one sits outside the classroom in the computer ‘lab’, the younger one in in the classroom as they dont have other supervision (the teacher apologised for this).

    having them overhear what is said in RE is not necessarily a bad thing for kids of atheist parents- it has led onto a lot of very useful discussions about science and religion at home. They have realised just how silly the bible storied are and just recently we were discussing Noahs ark and if they had fish tanks on the ark for the fresh water fish – was the flood fresh or sea water, and – cue hysterical laughter – dinosaurs became extinct because they were so big noah decided to take only one of each on the ark.

    i think religion education, if taugh at all, should be comparative religion, and taught in the context of society/literature/art – certainly not taught as the ‘truth’. I worry more about kids who arentgiven the opportunity by their parents t opt out – even parents i know who rent particularly religious want their kids to attend RE for the *arrgghh* ‘christian values’. (sorry about typos – wont let me edit)

  • http://pmhewitt.wordpress.com paula

    Another thing – one year when one of them did decide to do religion – one of the kids in the class mentioned ‘karma’. the religion teacher so ‘no, dear – WE dont believe in that blah blah blah’. the class teacher was horrified and told the class there were lots of different religions not just the one the religion teacher believed in. Kudos to her, but i suspect a lot of teachers would have let it ride.

  • Pseudonym

    How it’s handled is very different in each school.

    One of my kids, who goes to a specialist autism school, has no religious education whatsoever. The younger one, however, does have a school chaplain and religious education time, but you a) must explicitly opt in, and b) must pay for the cost of materials.

    I had naively assumed that this is the way it works everywhere. Julie Cowe’s experience clearly differs from mine.

  • muggle

    Every so often, I am made to feel very glad I live in America.

    Then, in the next breath, I hear worse nonsense going on here despite or in defiance of our Constitution.

  • cathy

    @Bruce, thanks, that makes a lot more sense because public schools are public trusts, ie set up and given responsibilities by the government, ostensibly for the public good.

    There is a lot of religious education that goes on in American schools as well, despite the clarity of Constitutional law on the matter.

  • http://lyvvielimelight.blogspot.com/ Julie Cowe

    Thank you very much everyone for your comments. A couple points I want to respond to, first being the belief that the UK is not a christian country – The head of state is also the head of the Church of England which makes de facto Chrisitan state. Albeit that the country more openly promotes a multi-faith society. Also the House of Lords has 25 bishops, the Bishop of Canterbury for one. The issue was tossed about last year when PM Gordon Brown proclaimed the UK was still a Christian country and the The Rt Rev Paul Richardson said declining church attendance and the rise in multiculturalism meant that “Christian Britain is dead”.

    I also agree RE in some parts of England have had bigger multi-faith issues than our personal experiences in Edinburgh.

    To the point raised that we must empower the kids to protest – I am talking about little kids in Prep (like USA’s kindergarten) up to sixth grade. They won’t have the confidence or a voice strong enough to challenge adults. It’s the parents who have to raise concerns and demand a more comparative religious education. Parents have a right to know what’s being taught to their kids and to not feel like interlopers for having questions and concerns. Not formalizing complaints to the appropriate bodies equals acceptance.

    Finally I appreciate that some Australians have not had similar experiences as many schools still do not have Chaplains or CRE teachers (Our school has three, aren’t we lucky). The government’s injection of another $42.8 million may be bringing a chaplain to your school in the next two years. The recruitment video link is only for Victoria, you may wish to see what your state’s chaplaincy recruiters are saying, which is available on the NSCP link at the top of the post. Also South Australia has made some moves to remove the Christin-ness from the chaplaincy program, but I’ve only today received files on that and can discuss their moves with more confidence later.

    Every day brings some new information since I started investigating this issue. I’m not proclaiming to be an expert. I’m relaying what I’ve discovered so far.

  • Ian Read

    My submission to my State MP:-

    I have been looking into religious education in my children’s school and am disturbed as to what I have found.

    I have approached my school principal about this but she says her hands are tied as it is Education Department policy. She has been good enough to forward me a copy of the relevant policy.( i am happy to post if any one wants but it is large)

    I had thought about removing my child from this class but have been informed that he would not be allowed to learn anything else whilst this class was in session due to clause 3.22.6 para 4.

    That my child should be prevented from learning by State legislation is an anathema to me and one I find especially offensive given he attends a secular State run school.

    I also call your attention to the “opt out” arrangements imposed (3.22.7 para 2). If parents fail to return the correct form within 14 days they are considered to have consented.

    In what other area of life does silence give consent? I thought that principle went out with Thomas More and Henry VIII yet here it is alive and well in Victorian public schools in 2010.

    I would also point out that as consent is NOT required each year, and as silence is presupposed to give consent, parental consent might NEVER be obtained.

    I feel that a fairer, more equitable system would allow those children not in the RI class to be instructed in other subjects.

    I also believe that the “opt out” system should be changed to an “opt in” system which would be more in line with general legal principles.

    RI could then continue with those students whose parents actively wish them to be educated in this subject.

  • http://mimbles.blogspot.com mimbles

    There’s a project underway in NSW to offer a secular ethics course during SRE (Special Religious Education) time. The St James Ethics Centre has managed to persuade the Dept of Education to allow a 10 week trial of their Ethics Course, a huge step forward in challenging the presence of religious education in our schools.

    http://www.ethics.org.au/content/ethics-based-complement-to-scripture

  • scott

    @Ian Read:

    and compare the wording in the guidelines (which are not state law, but policy made by the schools in favor of the churches) to the actual law – which is called “the education act” … nothing in the law directs this to be “opt out”, or “default”.

    VIC was secular from 1872 till 1950 when they essentially adopted NSW policy – both VIC and NSW faced steep opposition from churches on the issue of “secular public schools” … remember, before the “invention ” of public schooling in 1872 in AU – the only place to become “educated” was in Church Schools. The fact that AU as a this hour to teach “sunday school” in the schools – was merely a way to deal with the threat that the churches would not permit schooling unless their agenda was supported. At the time the churches in VIC could not agree “which” sect of christian teaching would have the say, so the legislature adopted secularism as policy to deal with the impass. In 1950 however, enough churches got together under the CESS umbrella that they got back into the schools with CRE. It was a “reversal” on 80 years of secular public education in VIC.

    Today though, secularism, is understood as one of the great achievements of human rights – and in public schools in AU – is suspended for one hour a week. Most parents just ignore it … and treat it as harmless.

    @ mimbles:

    offering an alternative is NOT challenging the presence of religion – it is merely challenging the right of the churches to dictate the school policy for one hour a week (ie take our class or sit in the hall).

    How the schools feel this is OK in the first place simply related to the fact that they lack the courage of their convictions to stand up to the political will of the churches and say that a secular school system is not letting kids down by teaching ONLY secular subjects.

    The churches constantly use “drugs” “bullying” and “family crisis” as a reason why they belong in schools – this is why the chaplains are there – because no one points out that they don’t address the issues they claim to address.

    Remember, the 13 yo boy stabbed last month, was at a catholic school. He was surrounded by clergy.

  • Ian Read

    The argument I have been given is that religion will teach ethics. I feel that if this is the aim it would be much more efficient to teach ethics directly as per the St James course.
    I have brought what I consider the religious bias inherent in the law to the attention of both Labor and Liberal education ministers ( lib is opp minister of course) but have only received a response from Martin Dixon.

    His response

    “For your information.

    I forwarded on your e-mail to Martin Dixon (Shadow Education spokesman) and
    his comments are as follows:

    “Your constituent is correct on all counts.

    The issue was up for debate when the Education & Training Act was
    re-written in 2007 when no changes were made to RI.

    However, Schools should gainfully accommodate those students who are not
    attending RI.

    Unfortunately, I do not intend to change the current arrangements.””

    I’m frustrated that no one seems to care about this, to me, obvious bias. They say I’m right but have no plans to change anything. How does that work?

    @ Scott. Thanks for the background. I had no idea. I have to say that makes it worse not better in my eyes. I don’t understand how my boy can be taught a subject as fact that has no basis in evidence in a “secular” school.

  • http://mimbles.blogspot.com mimbles

    @scott It challenges the presence of religious education in public schools by addressing directly the churches’ claims that they offer the best/only way for kids to receive an education in ethics, and the fact that, in particular, the Anglican church was so opposed to even the trial going ahead shows that the churches are well aware of that point. It also offers parents a more palatable alternative to having their kids sitting around doing pretty much nothing if they do opt out. That then has the potential to lead to much greater numbers of kids doing exactly that. And if significant numbers of kids are opting out of the SRE classes then that puts paid to the argument that it must be ok because most people let their kids attend the classes.

    Of course it’s not the perfect solution to the problem but it is a practical first step on the path towards opening up discussion about Dept of Education policy on the matter.

  • http://lyvvielimelight.blogspot.com/ Julie Cowe

    Interesting, Ian – I got the same response from Martin Dixon. I wonder how many other parents have complained to him that he’s fobbed off with a “The Coalition have no plans to change the staus quo.”

  • Ian Read

    Dear Julie,

    Well hes two for two so far. 100%.
    That said I never even recieved a reply from the Government.

  • http://st-eutychus.com Nathan

    “I filed a complaint because cosmology and Creationism do not mix and it was unacceptable for the Chaplain to make such a claim. The outcome was that my daughter had “taken the comments out of context.””

    I’m curious as to how on earth you justify this claim? Are you saying that if God does exist and created the earth using the Big Bang somehow cosmology suddenly disappears? Cosmology would seem to be based on observation of the cosmos, the question of what caused the big bang is philosophical – but I would think these questions naturally mix.

    Surely you freethinkers should be happy for your children to learn about religion so that they can decide for themselves though? To limit their ability to make up their own minds smacks of child abuse to me…

  • scott

    @mimbles:

    I see your point. What I’m trying to say is that when we support the idea of an alternative to scripture in the form of “ethics” we are denying that there is a larger and more important issue at stake here. Now it may be a practical half step, but it is not one based on principle.

    If the issue is “kids with nothing to do” why teach “ethics”, and not basket weaving? Are we saying that the religion class is there to fill an ethics hole in the curriculum?

    The issue is “secularism” itself. Secularism forbids the state to organize and treat people differently by their beliefs – this is especially bad in the government schools, where many different backgrounds are required to attend – remember school is a mandatory requirement imposed by the state. Children MUST attend school. If you believe religion A go to room 101 if you believe B go to room 102, etc … is exactly what secularism forbids. The fact is that the state has no business doing bible class, it knows this but instead of saying “church is where you teach religion” not in public school, it struck a deal, one class a week, taught by volunteers Why? Because the churches made a fuss and no one had the guts to stand up for the principle and argue back on behalf of principle, they accepted that “religion” is the source of our “values”, rather than “religion is a matter of personal and private commitments outside the scope of the government” … also the politicians use this issue as a sop to the Christian vote – it is the “we are a Christian nation” argument.

    These churches openly refer to the public schools as a “mission field” and they are using the power of the state to pursue that mission – that is the problem – and equating their religion class with ethics – only makes it worse, because it undermines one of our highest principles: Secularism.

    Do we oppose the current situation because our personal beliefs dissent from those of the church, and we want to hover over our kids and keep bible stories out of their ears? How shallow of us, are we really that lame as parents? No. We oppose this because it is a violation of our highest principles. If it is the former, politicians have every right to say to us, “well the majority disagree with you”, if it is the latter, politicians can say “no matter what the majority want” – our principles dictate that we don’t do it.

    Not to sound absurd, but think about slavery. We might all get behind a program to improve the housing conditions of slaves – since slaves can’t own their own houses, but that would ignore the principles, and simply make it an issue of our opinion about how slaves should be treated. However, we don’t object to slavery because of the WAY it is done, we object to it because of the fact that we believe in the principle of personal freedom. Slavery is wrong, no matter how posh their cabins.

    Hell maybe we do need an ethics class!

    An ethics alternative to religion class is like a fair housing program for slaves – it ignores the principles upon which we have reason to object in the first place. It is not that the kids have nothing to do while religion is being taught – it is the fact that the state is “organizing” classes based on matters of personal and private conscience.

    If Australia is a secular nation, and not a religious nation like England, we must stand up for secularism – and the religious, and atheist should make common cause on this, not, as seems to be the case now, stand on opposite sides of this issue.

    Supporting alternatives to religion class in school, totally ignores the issue of why this program is objectionable in the first place.

  • scott

    @ nathan

    no the issue is not “kids make up their own mind” the issue is that that we live in a country where the state can not organize and treat people differently because of their religion. It can not have a bible class and excuse the hindus.

    Secuarlism was invented not to satisfy the wishes of atheists who don’t like your nutty ideas about original sin and substitutionary sacrifice, and the cutting off of the foreskin of male children, but because it recognized that the state has power which must be limited, and kept out of matters of faith.

    This used to be largely because of the fact that the faiths themselves can’t get along, but it is evolving to greater friction between men like me who find faith an absurd and wicked set of ideas, and people like you, who think that God is guiding their lives … we can have our debates, but we can’t have it with the support of the state. Believe me, you do not want that. You and I should agree on secularism. It is the only system where we both benefit.

  • http://st-eutychus.com Nathan

    You’re making some odd assumptions about my position on secularism here – and my comment about indoctrination was mostly facetious.

    We agree on secularism – and I’m sympathetic with your views on RE (even though I’m a Christian, and studying at a theological college) – I would be mad if science in schools was taught as though it is in conflict with belief in God.

  • scott

    @nathan, I apologize if I over stated your position here, you said,

    Surely you freethinkers should be happy for your children to learn about religion so that they can decide for themselves though? To limit their ability to make up their own minds smacks of child abuse to me…

    I took that to mean you think CRE is fine, if you are Hindu, look on it as a learning experience, and not a form of state approved religious indoctrination that makes your faith second class in AU.

    You might have said, “Julie, believers and non believers alike should work to encourage secularism in schools” … if you’d have said something like that, I might not have confused you with someone who thinks the status quo is fine.

    Now that you are a declared Christian supporter of secularism, what are you doing to see that religion is not taught in government school?

    Also, please note that the law in VIC distinguishes between teaching ABOUT religion, and instructing people to believe in religion.

    That is what we are talking about.

    The only reason I know that Jesus is a poor moralist, is because I know what he is supposed to have said. The only reason that we can know that religion is foolishness is because we subject its claims to reason. Of course our children are going to learn about religion.

    But churches are teaching preps to pray … this isn’t teaching “about” it is “give me the child and I’ll give you the man” … it is wicked, and wrong.

  • http://st-eutychus.com Nathan

    The second paragraph of my initial comment should be read in the context of the first.

    You haven’t actually done anything that looks like dealing with the point I’m making (or that I made in my opening comment) – but have instead taken this another couple of steps further away. I believe the man you think I am is now firmly made of straw.

    When you say “that is what we are talking about” you are not speaking for me – that is not what I am, or was, talking about.

    So long as you are calling for science to be taught in a way that says cosmology does away with the need for God – I will argue that there is a place for religious instruction in schools.

    Science is not philosophy. When philosophy – or indeed atheism – is brought into the science classroom, then I think Christians are entitled to offer a counter view (to the atheism, not to the science).

    When you say I should have said “Julie, believers and non believers alike should work to encourage secularism in schools”… what you’re doing is missing the point I was making (albeit poorly – apparently)… I don’t think Julie was advocating for secularism in schools – she is advocating for atheism in schools by suggesting that science is incompatible with religious belief.

    This is clearly not the case – and is a pretty dumb argument to make – certain religious beliefs (American fundamentalism) flee from science – but only those who poorly understand theology and what the Bible has to say on the matter of science (not a whole lot given that it was written before the scientific method was invented)…

    The only reason I know that Jesus is a poor moralist, is because I know what he is supposed to have said.

    That is purely subjective and based on your own moral framework – and yet you frame it as objective knowledge. I don’t think Jesus was a poor moralist. I think you’re using your own standards and beliefs as the standards and beliefs that everybody should hold to – which is fine for your own children, but this whole argument against RE is riddled with hypocrisy. If the majority of Australians think there’s a God but don’t go to church I think it’s logical to assume that they want their children learning about the God they think exists somewhere… school seems like a perfectly natural place.

  • http://st-eutychus.com Nathan

    Secuarlism was invented not to satisfy the wishes of atheists who don’t like your nutty ideas about original sin and substitutionary sacrifice, and the cutting off of the foreskin of male children…

    I can honestly say that I have never done that… nor do I believe it necessary.

    Now can I teach your children?

  • Liz

    WTHeck are most of you people (except Nathan) so afraid of?
    We are not the big bad boogie man.

    I am so glad to be able to live without your fearful paranoia in my life.

    It is truly a “Peace which transcends all understanding, guarding my heart and mind”* from this kind of hopeless thinking.

    But then again, why would I expect to find anything else on an “atheist” website?
    *Philippians 4:7

  • http://lyvvielimelight.blogspot.com/ Julie Cowe

    @Nathan The class my daughter was in was called “Christian religious education” and when the subject of The Big Bang came up, the CRE teacher should have told the kids that wasn’t what she was there to talk about but they could ask their teacher or parents about it instead. Spreading misinformation is reprehensible.

    I had allowed my 10 year old to take the class because she is able to reason, ask questions and think things through. My 5 year old on the other hand cannot. She believes in Santa, fairies and the Easter Bunny even though I’ve never told her they are real. She even believes in the concept of God. She gets it from society and one day she’ll be free to disbelieve when she is more mature and able to reason for herself, free from my interference or insistence on one over another.

    The power of the parent to mold a child’s mind at this age is lessened when they go to school. The kids are introduced to many more adults who they must respect and trust. When those adults then tell the kids God made everything, pray to God and to ask for forgiveness for their sins it’s reinforcing one point of view. Before they are ever able to question or challenge that opinion. That, to me, is child abuse.

    Sorry, Nathan but no, you can’t teach my children.

  • http://syllogistic.blogspot.com Sy

    @nathan “If the majority of Australians think there’s a God but don’t go to church I think it’s logical to assume that they want their children learning about the God they think exists somewhere… school seems like a perfectly natural place.”
    Don’t you think it more logical that if they believe in God but don’t go to church that they do not agree with the available organized religions and would very well teach their own children about God as THEY understand him – and it would not be very natural at all for an outside party to do this for them?
    Churches are for teaching about religion – not schools.

  • Ian Read

    @ Nathan
    Why would you assume a majority of Australians would want their children learning to worship in school? You’ve just conceded they lack the desire to take them to church. Teaching that various cultures believe in various deities is perfectly acceptable. Being inculcated in a belief system, that has no basis in evidence, prior to being old enough to process the information critically is another thing altogether.

    If you are so confident, then join with me in pushing for a change to the policy from an “opt out” system to an “opt in” system. If, as you contend, the majority of Australian parents want their children worshiping in school then it will make no difference. If on the other hand the majority do not opt in then my hypothesis will be correct.

    @ Liz
    WTHeck are we afraid of? We are afraid that you and your ilk will brainwash our children into believing your Stone Age fantasies and that the “revealed truth” of some 2000 year old anonymous writer is of equal or greater weight than scientific theory. I find your chosen quote revealing insofar as it values peace above understanding and enjoins you to guard your heart and mind against such understanding. Peace is all well and good but not at the expense of learning and understanding. But then again what would I expect from a Xian visiting an atheist site.

  • llewelly

    Some parents have reported their child sat for the hour in empty hallways, alone.

    Make sure those kids take a good book to school.

  • Liz

    Please do not mistake my “peace” for any kind of lack of understanding or knowledge.
    And I am certainly not out to brainwash you or any of your children.
    I just love how we all get lumped together in the “ilk”. Stereotyping is SO YESTERDAY. I would have thought such an enlightened website as this to be far above such ignorance.

  • Ian Read

    Merely responding to your stereotyping in kind.

  • Liz

    Lame, very lame.
    The only two here somewhat in dissent (Nathan and I), obvoiusly have a different viewpoint.
    The assenting side sounds like a chorus in unison. NEVER seen it take SO many words to basically say the same thing over and over.

    And no one has yet answered the question of HITHeck can kids be imparted the MVE that they need, when the selfsame MVE are basically what is taught in the major religious tomes (Bible, Koran, Torah, etc.) of any ancient, (or modern) civilazation.

    Are ya’ll going to come up with a whole new set of MVE? This should be interesting.
    :))))))

  • Ian Read

    Yes I agree your stereotyping is very lame.
    WTHeck is MVE?

    MVE Murray Valley Encephalitis
    MVE Market Value of Equity
    MVE Midland Valley Exploration (UK)
    MVE Midwest Vocal Express (barbershop chorus)
    MVE Mid Valley Engineering (Modesto, CA)
    MVE muvee AutoProducer (file extension)
    MVE Modulo Variable Expansion
    MVE Mean Variance Efficient
    MVE Multimedia and Virtual Environment
    MVE Maximum Voluntary Effort (physical testing)
    MVE Museovirasto, Kulttuurihistorian Osasto, Esinekokoelmat (Finnish)
    MVE Multiple Version Environment
    MVE Most Valued Employee (award)

    I assume it is one of these. Interesting, but scarcely germane to the topic being discussed.

    I have at no point advocated that children should not be taught about religion merely that they should not be taught that it is “THE” truth to the exclusion of all else. I also object to my child being enjoined to worship Christianity at my State funded secular school.
    No other subject is able to be taught without a basis in fact. Why should religion be accorded special status?
    As I have already stated in a previous post if we wish to impart good moral/ethical values to our children I would consider it much more efficient to teach these directly via an ethics course, as is being trialled under the St James Ethics Centre in some NSW State schools, than through the use of misinterpretable parables. Or even worse the misogynist and racist examples of the Old Testament.
    I note you complain that we all say the same thing. That’s probably because we agree. You don’t? Then offer up an argument as to why worship in schools should continue so as to have a substantive discussion rather than resort to childish insults.

  • Marc DiGIambattista

    So sad to see the “debate” here degenerate into name calling and abuse on all sides.
    It is important for athiests to understand that in discussing religion they are dealing with beliefs held close to the heart. When criticizing a doctrine or institution, we must be as diplomatic as possible not to attack all of the individual people who may subscribe to that doctrine. Even when in principle I agree with most of the “attacks” on religion, I try to stay clear of that approach as all you do is preach to the converted and alienate those with different views. It is self defeatist tribalism. Leave the fight for atheism to Richard Dawkins, and carry on with the important work of demonstrating that atheists are people of moral and value who hold up the highest ideals of human rights and respect for all people.

    Now, back to the NSCP:
    The one and only reason to oppose the NSCP is the following:
    It is un-Australian (against the ethical principles and Constitution of the nation) for Christian belief systems to be promoted in State Schools – with the agenda to promote the programme to all state scholls – using the money of all tax payers. It is un-Australian, unethical and downright robbery for every Atheist, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist in this country to be paying for thier’s and everyone elses children to be indoctrinated in a belief that they would not foster upon those children.
    I respect the right of Christians to send Christian children to Christian schools. I don’t like it, but I respect thier rights.
    I dont believe anyone has the right to evangelize in state schools in a secular state.

    Thankyou all for reading and sharing thoughts.


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