Godless Gross, a writer for the AGE, rocked up to the VCAT hearing for the summary arguments – and writes one of the most vapid commentaries yet produced about this issue, his musing begins with asking “oh how bad could it be” ?
But I ask you, is half an hour a week in a government-approved class in our information rich world going to create Christian converts?
This is a staggeringly shallow question, with an obvious answer, “no”. Apparently in Australian Schools, the metric for determining the curriculum and programming is not “is this as good as we can do”? It is, “Does this really do any harm”?
This is the classic, “she’ll be right” view. Gross is saying in effect, lets not object to something that isn’t doing any real harm (one assumes here that Gross views schools that produce Christians as doing harm to kids) therefore Gross would cry foul about SRI policy if it could be shown to be effective at converting children to Christianity. Since it is only a half hour, and since there are other influences that might keep kids from being Christians, (Gross sites, family, friends, the TV and “the internet” as factors that keep kids from getting brainwashed by ACCESS), Gross reckons, “she’ll be right, mate”. The mind reels.
We know why ACCESS Ministry exists, it is the same reason that any “missionary” group exists. The question isn’t “should we worry that they are effective”?
Everyone, even ACCESS Ministries, who want to convert kids to Christ, agrees that they are not being effective! The question here isn’t whether ACCESS is incompetent at bringing children to Christ in Australia’s largest “mission field” (aka, the schools) it is whether they are breaking the law by violating important rights that families and children have in our country.
When a child is bullied we don’t ask, well did it really hurt that much, before we judge bullying to be wrong – and even though ACCESS and its volunteers are incompetent, this doesn’t excuse what they are doing, or make it “OK”. No family in Australia should have to ask their child to be excused from a program put on in their schools by the local church.
Would it be OK if the town sent someone to Godless Gross’s house to say the grace? What if they said it softly so that it was barely audible? Ok, then? Would you appreciate it the town just sent over someone from the church to offer to say grace, and asked you to sign a form before you sat down to your meal indicating your interest in the volunteer saying grace at your dinner table (it would only be right at the beginning and said softly) – I mean since when “harm” become a determining factory for the basic right to privacy in matters of religion?
The question here is whether the church should have a state legislated right to operate a youth ministry endorsed by the Minister of Education in the government schools, and if so, what the terms are under which this will occur. It should go without saying that there are no metrics for whether the SRI program is doing anything at all. No one measures it, no one evaluates it – it simply exists because a group of church activists have it, and don’t want to not have it.
In 1950, the Victorian Parliament reversed a 70 year policy of conducting secular instruction. Rather than remove the “secular” provision that forms the “principles” of the original law and therefore is the “foundation” of the education system itself, the law was amended to allow an “exception”. Today this exception is a form of franchise run by a parachurch youth ministry which can claim certain rights under the law to present religious instruction. Additionally, working with allies in the Department of Education, the way parents are informed about this program is designed to downplay the things that any normal person would find troubling – and to emphasize things that everyone thinks is useful.
Gross argues in his piece that the Melinda Richards was caught in a “perverse paradox” – arguing that SRI was “valuable”, in order to show that the children not taking it were missing out. The Judge also noted this point, asking Richards several times, “so can it be said that there is any benefit in SRI, if parents say they don’t want it for their kids”.
The case depends on the discrimination against the unbelievers’ kids who had to sit out and do quiet reading or engage in that oxymoron, educational computer games. And this is the paradox. In order to show that the godless kids were discriminated against, the barrister for the families had to show how good the SRI was! Because the SRI was integrated into the syllabus and taught, those who did not participate were suffering a ”denial of access”. It was a perverse paradox
Richards did make the argument that SRI has been and is promoted as “something that is good for you even if you are not religious”, because it contains many things and ideas that have “secular value”, to do this she simply read from the information given to parents about “The agreed Christian syllabus called “Religion in Life”.
- Complements lesson themes and current departmental policy
- builds on the VELS as they relate to the physical, personal and social learning strand
- helps children explore their own lives for meaning and purpose
- introduces children to the religious life and ideas of their community
- provides some understanding of the stories, festivals, worship, and symbols of the Christian faith in the community
- respects children’s rights to uphold their own opinions while providing a broader understanding of this major influence on contemporary Australian culture.
These are of course all statements intended to disguise the fact that this program is a Christian Ministry run by a group who has told us that they want to “make disciples of children”.
We won’t know how the Judge in this case weighs up the issues – he could do what Gross does, and say, SRI, “meh”.