In the well intended effort to give relief from the problems caused by families opting their children out of “Scripture” in NSW, a group worked for nearly a decade to create a program of Ethical inquiry as something that would complement the provision of Scripture by church ministry in the state’s schools.
The reason it took nearly a decade to address this problem is that the churches in NSW created a campaign to destroy the “Ethics” which they saw as undermining SRE, they called this campaign “SRE on Trial”
Here is what they said at the time:
and here was the branding and feel of the Campaign:
This was of course and all out coordinated assault on what was really a very modest proposal to simply enlarge the kinds of groups that could participate in “SRE”. Today a group has been created called “Primary Ethics”. Their task? Find 4000 people to voluntarily teach ethics along side SRE in the state schools.
Sound easy? Its not. Only a few hundred volunteers have been rounded up, and the job of actually giving all the schools a program like this is still in front of them, and will be in perpetuity if the NSW Churches have anything to say about it. Once bitterly opposed to “ethics” the churches in NSWs are now campaigning to keep ethics, just like it is.
FIRIS argues that the problem isn’t what to do with the kids who opt out, the problem is granting groups who want to conduct “ministry” an open door to the schools – which should not have programs like when school itself is an obligation of citizenship. School isn’t a place to allow missionaries or confessional religious instruction – that is something that we should expect families to furnish in partnership with their churches and faith communities – its simply not the job of the public schools to cater to the dozens of religions that exist in Australia.
It is time to move on, and the compromise hammered out for political expediency, has now prevented any real chance of progress. NSW is stuck with confessional religious instruction.
FIRIS believes that Victoria’s fate might be different.
What has now happened in NSW is that the groups who were formerly against “ethics” are now “for ethics” because the ethics negotiated terms that in effect protect the “right” of the church to operate in the school day.
It looks like the NSW model for SRE is one the the Church couldn’t be happier with, despite previously having run a campaign against “ethics” – it is now “for ethics” because it has gotten ethics to agree to operate essentially just like SRE, delivered on the same haphazzard volunteer basis as religion, and this suits catechists just fine, as we see here in this November article from “The Catholic Weekly”.
Jude Hennessy, CCRESS liaison officer and Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) director in the Wollongong diocese, said it is no secret that the proponents of ethics classes have struggled to get adequate volunteers to teach their program and are functioning in small number of schools across the State … to put it plainly, the implementation of ethics classes in a limited number of school communities has had little impact on the teaching of SRE and if anything has highlighted the wonderful contribution Catechists make to Public Education and the common good.”
He added: “The directors of Catholic SRE from around NSW remain confident that the support of families around the State will continue to see the teaching of SRE thrive, and have a positive impact through the formation of young people in the faith tradition of their families.
“In the same way, we are confident that the Coalition values this contribution as a strength of Public Education and will work with providers to ensure their quality curriculums can be delivered effectively.”
While acknowledging Christian Democratic MP Fred Nile’s action to remove Ethics classes is “no doubt an expression of his strong support” for Special Religious Education in State Schools, Mr Hennessy said CCRESS regards efforts to remove ethics classes at this point as being “counter-productive to the good work done by thousands of SRE teachers”.
“The Catholic SRE curriculum delivers an ethical framework based upon a relationship with a loving God who is the source of goodness and truth,” he said.
“Nevertheless, CCRESS respects the right of parents of students in NSW State Schools to opt out of SRE classes and to choose ethics as an alternative to non-scripture.
“At its meeting last week CCRESS, the organising body of the major provider of SRE in NSW has re-affirmed its position not to support actions to remove ethics classes as an alternative to non-scripture.”