The president of the Humanist Society of Victoria (HSV), Stephen Stuart, has misstated the of views of Catherine Byrne, a leading advocate for reform of religious education in Australia. Ms. Byrne maintains the website http://www.religioneducation.org.au/ and is a PhD. candidate at Macquarie University’s Centre for Research on Social Inclusion, studying under Marion Maddox.
In the December 2011 HSV Newsletter, Stuart, quoted Byrne as saying:
She saw GRE (general religious education) as learning about religions and ethics as learning from religions. (italics in the original)
Stuart then wrote that, “Humanists might well jib at having ethics taught from religions”.
FIRIS asked Byrne if she said what Stuart attributed to her. Byrne replied, “No, that is not what I said. I said that learning from religions includes an ethical component – in reflexive critical analysis. I did not and would not reduce ethics to a mere religious domain. I teach ethics and do not bring religion into it at all”.
Scott Hedges, a FIRIS parent who has worked with Byrne on the issue of SRI and schools, was flabbergasted, “Why they would misquote one of the leading thinkers in Australia on this subject or for that matter publish her views without fact checking them with her, is hard to fathom”.
Hedges added, “Cathy Byrne has been a champion for parents who see this system as abusive, and seeing her misquoted gives me the impression that the leaders of the Humanist Society are just looking to be argumentative. Cathy is really good on this issue and in addition to her scholarly work, has published several essays in the popular media“.
Hedges went on to clarify that, “FIRIS has a specific set of policy objectives whereas the Humanist Society seems to be most interested in using this issue as a vehicle for promoting itself and its particular world view, which it calls ‘Humanism’.
Hedges said that it was his opinion that “from the perspective of most parents, Humanism is just another special interest, and an esoteric philosophical one at that”, Hedges added, “it is undeniable that ACCESS ministry is going out of its way to paint the controversy over SRI as something being pursued by some nefarious group it calls ‘Humanists’ – which diminishes the fact that this issue is a mainstream concern of parents, and not a program run by a small self interested philosophical debate club”.
Hedges said that it was impossible to pigeon hole FIRIS as belonging to any one philosophical movement”, and added that he thought this was why ACCESS’s CEO publicly talks about the “the Humanists” so often as the source of the opposition to SRI.