Religion editor for The Age, Barney Zwartz, writes today on the growing number of educators and academics to condemn ACCESS Ministries Special Religious Instruction as indoctrination. Or as Monash University academic Anna Halafoff stressed yesterday, “it’s not education about religions but education into a particular religion”.
The Religions, Ethics and Education Network Australia has written to Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu, New South Wales Premier Barry O’Farrell and the respective education ministers seeking an urgent review of religious education so changes can be included in the new national curriculum.
The letter is signed by academics Gary Bouma (also an Anglican priest) and Anna Halafoff from Monash University and Cathy Byrne and Marion Maddox from Macquarie University.
According to the group, the current model (volunteers teaching about Christianity) is exclusivist and at odds with government aims to promote social inclusion. This model, which reaches about half the children in state schools, is becoming controversial, and three parents have complained to the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission that it is discriminatory.
This seems in stark dissonance to what was claimed by ACCESS CEO, Evonne Paddison who, claiming we are “a nation of believers”, wrote in Religious instruction teaches much more than faith [The Age April 3rd];
The recent opposition to Christian programs does not come from non-Christian faiths; there is great respect and co-operation between the religious instruction providers of all faiths. We occasionally meet, share ideas and support each other in training volunteer instructors.
Much of the opposition is being voiced by humanists.
We find dissonance confirmed and Paddison’s generalisation condemned in Zwartz’s final paragraph;
Dr Halafoff said Access Ministries, Victoria’s main provider, was wrong to claim objections to the existing model came from only humanists; diverse faith and cultural groups objected, as well as some academics.
The combative stance against Humanism is without foundation. It’s better understood if we revisit a December 2008 article, Religion in schools to go God-free, by Michael Bachelard [The Age Dec. 14, 2008];
VICTORIAN state primary school students will soon have an alternative — religious education lessons taught by people who do not believe in God and say there is “no evidence of any supernatural power”.
The Humanist Society of Victoria has developed a curriculum, which the State Government accreditation body says it intends to approve, to deliver 30-minute lessons each week of “humanist applied ethics” to primary pupils.
But the body that accredits Victoria’s 3500 Christian religious instruction volunteers, Access Ministries, says humanism is not a religion and so should not be taught in religious education time.
Access Ministries now teaches in about two-thirds of state primary schools. Other accredited instructors teach Judaism, Buddhism and Baha’i.
The Humanist Society does not consider itself to be a religious organisation and believes ethics have “no necessary connection with religion”. Humanists believe people are responsible for their own destiny and reject the notion of a supernatural force or God.
Fundamentalist Christian group the Salt Shakers panned the idea of humanists being given religious education class time.
Research director Jenny Stokes said: “If you go there, 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.”
Such is the irrationality that pervades this topic. It speaks volumes as to the inherent flaws in biblical values when taught as absolutes, isolated from the many expressions of the human condition.
At the time RMIT professor Desmond Cahill, head of the World Conference of Religions for Peace, stated;
“I think there’s a greater realisation that Australia’s emerging as a multi-faith society, which means the acceptance of non-Christian religions … there’s an increasing realisation that the notion of religion has expanded to include all kinds of spiritualities and associated world views, including atheist and humanist world views.”
Evonne Paddison was content to cite legislation to the advantage of ACCESS Ministries;
…. while it was not her decision as to who should or should not have access to state schools, she did not think humanism fell under “the relevant legislation to be classified as a faith-based religion in religious instruction in the way that Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism” did.
Yet humanist volunteers were aiming to teach “humanist applied ethics” as an alternative for children not attending religious instruction. This allowed the very same opt out choice for parents that religious instruction does. ACCESS is well aware that it’s “values” programme, described as “crap… just appalling… not on” and supported by religious “bullies” by Melbourne priest and academic Professor Gary Bouma, will gain students through attrition from ostracism.
Should Humanist ethics classes run, the mass exodus from literal biblical instruction will see ACCESS attendance plunge, influence wane and of course funding for this opportunistic extravaganza placed under scrutiny.
Interpreting legislation to suit is not uncommon for Evonne Paddison. Along with blaming “humanists” for opposition to ACCESS Ministries last April 3rd, we see echoes of the December 2008 argument;
The genius of the Victorian system is that the current spread of religious instruction programs reflects the religious demographics of our society with Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Buddhist, Baha’i, Greek Orthodox, Islam and Hindu faith groups all participating.
Schools ”must” give access to faith providers, and the providers ”may” exercise their discretion to provide instruction. It is not the school’s prerogative to refuse religious instruction; the discretion in the act clearly relates to the providers. [Source]
This brutish interpretation simply means children will find themselves excluded, alienated, subject to discrimination and offered no alternative to ACCESS Ministries’ “Vision in Education & Chaplaincy”. Whatever that means.
Nonetheless, Paddison manages;
Religious instruction is not compulsory. The wishes of parents regarding their children’s involvement is well respected.
A clear thread of ill informed apportionment of blame toward Humanism has been a staple from ACCESS Ministries for over two years. Tragically, they are not winning any enduring respect amongst mainstream Christians.
The “recent opposition to Christian programmes”, referred to by Evonne Paddison appears to more correctly be opposition to ACCESS Ministries opposition to compromise. Perfectly sensible, widely welcomed and sorely needed alternatives to the narrow, divisive and unrealistic application of belief systems to a very troubled modern world, do exist.
To continue to ignore this in pursuit of morally partisan and arbitrary “values” is intellectually absurd.