20. Religion, education and children
Religion in school:L Braithwaite writes: Re. Mark Edmonds (yesterday, comments). I am concerned about the way religious groups take advantage of very young children to teach them that their own religion is true. Young children don’t have the psychological or intellectual capabilities to know what is true, what is something taught by a parent or teacher, or what is simply a belief spruiked by a religious volunteer.

Their mental immaturity is why industries like food and confectionery have codes of conduct that curtail their advertising for children — advertisers recognise that kids can’t distinguish reality from fantasy at a young age and that they make emotional attachments to imaginary characters. Advertisers have standards so that they don’t abuse the gorgeous naivety of little ones — but para-church groups don’t. Ethics anyone?

Far from it just being Crikey readers who are concerned about the provision of Special Religious Instruction (SRI), in fact Parents Victoria recently endorsed the motion passed by the Victoria Branch of the Australian Education Union May 13, 2011, to join teachers in calling for SRI to be moved outside of the normal school day by directing the Parents Victoria Executive to lobby to move SRI outside the compulsory school day.

Why say Crikey readers are intolerant? Intolerance includes an unwillingness or refusal to accept or tolerate other opinions or beliefs. Or to respect them. How is “rewarding or encouraging children’s behaviour with benefits”, aiming is to indoctrinate them with their own belief system, respectful or tolerant? Of children or parents? I think it is more like “manipulating and coercing children’s behaviour”. Would you be happy if strangers “rewarded and encouraged” your children in the middle of the school day by giving them soft drinks or lollies while they tell them about [insert religion not of your choice]? On a weekly basis?

The fairness in religions in school site explains how and why special religious instruction is allowed by government and forced onto primary schools and young children in Victoria (not teenagers!). What is tolerant about forcing your way into schools to try to indoctrinate small children.

I understand that ACCESS Ministries gets millions from the Victorian government so that it is in a position to offer SRI (which it always calls Christian Religious Education) to approximately 124,000 of the approximately 130,000 primary school children that SRI is provided to in Victoria. ACCESS refers to primary schools as a “mission field” and states on its website that it wants to go out and “make disciples” of the little kids. Schools MUST accept ACCESS into their classrooms if approached by ACCESS. SRI is taken by volunteers who are not trained teachers.

The system creates discrimination on religious grounds in very small children. The children who don’t attend are taken out of their classrooms to miss the Freddo Frogs and singing — and are not allowed to do any meaningful work during that time (they might sit in the hall — similar to detention) in case the other kids miss out. That is intolerance. It is horrible. I was bought up a Christian and I would not do this to anyone.

Parents are capable of making their own decisions and teaching their own children about faith and religion. For unqualified members of religious lobby groups to force their own opinions on small children with the authority of the school environment to bestow some kind of authenticity on their preaching is immoral, disingenuous and a cynical exploitation of children.