FROM: REV PAUL TONSON
RE: CONCERN FOR NON CHRISTIAN FAMILIES IN STATE SCHOOLS
As indicated on this site last year, I have taken a positive interest in the FIRIS campaign.
I appreciate the aim to provide non-discdriminatory, non-privileged education in the area of religion. I am willing to provide a public church platform for the voice of FIRIS.
Like a range of other active Christians, I am dismayed that ACCESS no longer seems to represent the breadth of theological viewpoint across the churches.
I also appreciate the FIRE in this site. However, may I draw attention to one misunderstanding perpetuated on this site in the following quote, which should be corrected!:
“The current policy is designed to favor ACCESS Ministry, and only ACCESS Ministry.”
It is true that by default, ACCESS ministries is in fact privileged in most schools. However, there is a long standing Jewish organization parallel to ACCESS that under the same legislation gains access to Jewish students in state schools. A range of other religions also make use of the legislated opportunity to enter schools. They do not want to lose this access. As the dominant religion in Australia, I believe we Christians should relinquish the privileged status we have. But for the sake of the other smaller religions, I am not in favour of totally abolishing the current system.
REPLY TO REVEREND PAUL TONSON
FROM: SCOTT_HEDGES, FIRIS PARENT
ON THE VACUOUSNESS OF CATERING TO FAITH INSTRUCTORS
Your point here is noted – however, I stand by our claim that the policy is designed to favor ACCESS Ministries, and only ACCESS Ministries. The history on this point is quite clear – the system itself was not about giving minority faiths “access”, it was only because of the manifest injustice that the policy had to be granted to other religions – and the system is totally abusive of families who choose not to follow religion. The system was a failed attempt at removing the “secular” provision in the education act in order to introduce Christianity for its supposed role in socializing children.
In its most recent incarnation it has been promoted as a form of youth ministry by a self interested group of activists who many clergy, including some in your own church, have clearly said, should not be in our schools at all. All of the scholarly inquiry into this points at the value of a rounded, comparative, and objective inquiry into religions. Sectarian, single faith instruction in religion should not be catered for – it should be up to families and their churches, mosques and synagogues to arrange for “religious instruction”.
Furthermore – why exactly would “after school” SRI not be a perfectly viable way of offering single faith instruction?
It is true as you note, that there is a Jewish organization involved in SRI, and it is true also that there interest among Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and others in participating in sectarian “faith instruction” in schools – all of these groups are self interested actors.
Of course “faith instructors” want their programs timetabled! Who knew!?
What are they supposed to do, invite people to attend programs they offer outside school hours? Have people come of their own volition? That would never work.
The interests of “Faith Instructors” should not be confused with the basic rights of “citizens”, no matter how much the faith instructors say it is their right to “teach their faith” – this wish should never be spun into legislation – or putting the government in the business of endorsing, accrediting or even so much as reviewing for its educational suitability – a course designed to instruct children in the beliefs and tenets of religion.
That is the job of YOUR CHURCH – not a duty for the “student wellbeing office”. Furthermore, religion should not be put to a test of popular preferences and the worst thing possible is to confuse the designs of “faith instructors” with the needs of the schools. If anything the demands of “faith instructors” should be discounted because they are based on over riding self interest.
Where is your note of concern for this (Jewish) mum, does the fact that she says her children are discriminated mean anything?
Does one have to be a “faith instructor” to speak for the interests of Jewish families, or can you just be “a Jewish family” in order to have standing on the matter?
No Jewish family in Australia is any danger of not having access to “their community” families do not want, or need, religious instructors trespassing on them via the authority of their school principal.
If faith educators want to invite families to undertake tuition in their programs, I put to you that there are many many many ways in which this can be offered. What “faith instructors” want is the power conveyed by the state to create a situation where the children come to them as part of an activity they are compelled to do. The last thing “faith instructors” want – is to have to ask people to sign up and attend “on their own”.
We are sick and tired of being told by “faith instructors” and their enablers, that there are no issues, or “lets not throw the baby out with the bath water”.
The baby in the bath is the loud complaining of “faith instructors” who are scared to death that without the schools giving them a half hour that their enrollments will shrink.
Lastly, the evidence, some of which is linked on our site, shows that good multi faith education is helpful to understanding and tolerance in a pluralist society, and this is overwhelmingly what “parents” and “teachers” want – the only one who wants differently it seems are “faith instructors” and other avowed sectarian interests.
Families are perfectly capable of choosing and engaging in religion – the Minister of Education should not negotiate with “faith instructors” in order to introduce sectarian programs in the schools – this is exactly what is happening here, and raising the concerns of organizations in the business of doing “faith instruction” above the interests of teachers and families is a violation of the basic rights of citizens in a society based on the idea of religious toleration and freedom.