The following news item was distributed via news letter to the families of “Melbourne Grammar School”, this school is arguably the most prestigious school in Victoria, and possibly the nation.  The Premier of Victoria, Tedd Ballieu is a graduate of this school.  Ron Noone is the Chaplain at the school.  

Father Noone, has spoken clearly and unequivocally about why, as an educator, and clergyman, he thinks the current system of SRI should be reformed.  Furthermore, he is unambiguous in his criticism of ACCESS Ministries for their use of the schools “mission fields”, and he is unstinting in his criticism of the Minister of Education for allowing volunteers to become teachers with a few hours of training.  Hopefully he will send us a photo of his car, parked in front of MGS with his FIRIS bumpersticker.   

From the Chaplain

Last weekend I participated in a Forum at Trinity College in the University of Melbourne on the question of
teaching religion in schools. Speakers included Dr. Marian de Souza from the Australian Catholic
University, Denise Nichols from Access Ministries, Meredith Peace from the Australian Education Union (&
aunt of Reilly Peace, 10By) and  Scott Hedges, parent and founder of Fairness in Religion in Schools.
Each of these speakers had 20 minutes to express their views on the current debate about the teaching of
religion in schools, especially the controversial “Special Religious Instruction” arrangements.  The
presentations were lively and thought provoking.
Dr. de Souza addressed issues of multiculturalism and multi-faith in contemporary Australia and argued
that these sociological changes needed to be reflected in any teaching of religion in schools.  She made a
case for the term “Spirituality” rather than Religious Education and she called it “relational consciousness”.
This was objected to by a member of the audience because spirituality has something to do with God or
the gods and the elemental spirits in the universe.  What is our consciousness related to?  I happen to
think that Spirituality is a part of Religious Education and not a replacement for it.  Meredith Peace gave
the Education Union’s views and the legal state of play.  She also thought classes should not be
segregated on the grounds of religion.
Scott Hedges is a very tall American who has two children in state primary schools.  He spoke passionately
against the current arrangements.  He called Access Ministries “dishonest and discriminatory”.  He claimed
Access do not do what they say they will do, stating they say they won’t proselytise and yet they treat state
schools as mission fields.   His children told him that Jews in their classes are walked out of the room when
SRI takes place.  This makes the whole structure  discriminatory. He presented a RE curriculum from
Quebec in Canada in which all children could participate.  He cannot understand why the government
won’t do something about this situation in this state.
In response, Denise Nicholls from Access denied there is a problem.  Parents have the right to “opt out” if
they don’t want SRI for their children.  She claimed that the curriculum simply gives the children an
opportunity to explore religion.  She added if a general Religious Education were to be introduced, then it
should exist side by side with SRI.  She praised the work of the many volunteers who go into the schools
teaching SRI.
At the end of the Forum Scott Hedges gave me a “bumper sticker” for the car that states,

State schools are not church playgrounds

Special Religious Instruction divides our children

When children are segregated on the grounds of religion, it automatically creates division.  This is the
opposite of understanding and it’s hard to deny that the current SRI arrangements fail to serve the values
of education.  Children need to be incorporated into a program.  The structure of “opting out” needs to be
abandoned and replaced by a philosophy that allows every child to feel welcome.  The subject should be a
genuine “Religious Education” taught by people  who are properly and professionally trained and have
some expertise in teaching.  This is the only way the subject will have credibility.  Recent studies have
again shown what many of us have known for a long time, namely, that students learn best when they
have the best teachers.  So, if the quality of teaching produces the best results, why would anyone think
that Religious Education should not have the best trained, the most professional and the most highly
motivated teachers?
Ron Noone