On 20 August 2019, the Christian lobby group ChristianSRE shared a post claiming that NSW’s 19th Century practice of dividing public school students up according to the religion of their parents for SRE (aka ‘scripture’) “strengthens social cohesion in multicultural Australia.” The post included a photograph of the NSW Minister for Education, Ms Sarah Mitchell, and others promoting the biased and questionable Study of Special Religious Education and its value to contemporary society (see Appendix 1 below)
On 23 October 2019 FIRIS published a post on Facebook countering ChristianSRE’s claims by pointing out how the provisions for SRE in the NSW Education Act 1990 enable religious groups that promote religious intolerance and extremism to gain access to NSW public school students (see Appendix 2 below). The post was accompanied by a meme (see Appendix 3 below) including the following statement from Mr Keith Piper of the approved SRE provider Liberty Baptist Church –
Islamism is a cancer. We must destroy the cancer or the cancer will destroy our society and our freedom…the Quran is the enemy.
Despite FIRIS bringing this statement, as well as other anti-Islamic beliefs, statements and activities of Mr Piper, to the attention of the previous current and NSW Ministers for Education, both Ministers did not revoke their approval of Liberty Baptist Church to deliver SRE in NSW Government schools. (See Appendices 4, 5, 6 & 7)
On the contrary, it seems the NSW Department of Education is more interested in shooting the messenger.
On 29 November 2019, FIRIS was contacted by the NSW Police’s Counter Terrorism Unit in response to a complaint from the NSW Department of Education regarding FIRIS’ post dated 23 October 2019.
The NSW Police alleged that FIRIS’ post could be interpreted as ‘hate-speech’. FIRIS replied by saying that FIRIS did not endorse the statement of Pastor Piper included in the meme and that the intent of the meme was easily identified in the text of the post that went with it. FIRIS said any issues with the statement made in the meme should be raised with Liberty Baptist Church.
On 3 April 2020, in response to a complaint sent to the Secretary of the NSW Department of Education that his staff responsible for SRE were failing to uphold the values of the NSW public service (see Appendix 8), the Director responsible for SRE informed FIRIS that –
Due to the nature of the social media posts by Fairness in Religions in Schools, the Department will not respond to any communication and/or correspondence from Fairness in Religions in Schools.
See Appendix 9 below.
NOTE: Despite FIRIS not deleting the post or the meme until May this year, there was no further contact with the NSW Police or any other Government body, apart from the Department of Education, regarding the meme.
NOTE: Liberty Baptist Church continues to be an approved provider of SRE.
Now what conclusions might we draw from all of this?
FIRIS believes that the failure of both Ministers for Education to revoke their approval for Liberty Baptist Church to deliver SRE seems to demonstrate that either –
- the previous Minister for Education, Mr Rob Stokes, and the current Minister, Ms Sarah Mitchell, believe the values, views and beliefs of Liberty Baptist Church are in alignment with the values of NSW public education, or
- the provisions for SRE in the NSW Education Act 1990 render any Minister for Education powerless to prevent religious organisations with values and beliefs contrary to the values of NSW public education from gaining access to NSW public school students.
Whatever the case may be, it is clear that the provisions for SRE in the NSW Education Act 1990 need to be removed.
An education in world religions and beliefs is too important to be handed over to people like Mr Piper.
It is time to take SRE out of NSW public schools and let the professional teachers do what they do well.
NSW Minister for Education – Ms Sarah Mitchell (third from right)
The statement – Islamism is a cancer. We must destroy the cancer or the cancer will destroy our society and our freedom…the Quran is the enemy. – was made by Mr Keith Piper as part of his presentation Lessons from Paris and Brussels Terror Massacre (Lesson 11) published on YouTube on 7 April 2016. The video on YouTube was identified as a recording of Mr Piper’s presentation ‘Incompatibility of Islam & Christian / Western values’ at the Australian Christian Nation Association (ACNA) Forum.
The video has since been removed from YouTube due to its graphic content, however, the video was available on YouTube at the time of writing to Minister Rob Stokes and a link was included in the correspondence (see link in Appendix 5).
You can see Mr Piper making the comment here.
You can read more about Mr Piper’s activities here.
On 17 July 2017 FIRIS wrote to the then-Minister for Education Mr Rob Stokes to complain about the views and activities of Pastor Keith Piper of Liberty Baptist Church (see link below). The correspondence included a specific reference to Pastor Piper’s statement included in FIRIS’ meme and a link to the source of the statement.
Please note that some screenshots from Pastor Piper’s ‘Incompatibility of Islam & Christian / Western values’ presentation included in this letter to the Minister have been censored due to their graphic and violent content, including beheadings, executions, and female circumcision. However, in order for readers to have an idea of the content of the images used in Pastor Piper’s YouTube video, the censoring is kept to a minimum, and therefore FIRIS still feels that it is necessary to warn readers to exercise their own discretion before viewing page seven (7) of the letter to the Minister.
On 4 August 2017, a representative of the Department responded on behalf of the Minister saying –
“Liberty Baptist Church is an approved provider and has met the current requirements to maintain approval.”
In response to ChristianSRE’s post dated 20 August 2019 (see Appendix 1 above), FIRIS wrote to the current NSW Minister for Education, Ms Sarah Mitchell, asking her to confirm whether it is appropriate for SRE instructors to discuss mass shootings and suicide bombings in SRE classrooms (see link to letter below).
FIRIS also asked her to confirm (given the nature of SRE, the role of SRE instructors, and the high likelihood of a lack of professional qualifications in counselling and teaching amongst SRE instructors), whether SRE classrooms are ‘safe places’ for students ‘to share their feelings and ideas’ about traumatic events such as the mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand.
In addition FIRIS brought to Minister Mitchell’s attention the correspondence with the former Minister, Mr Rob Stokes, regarding Liberty Baptist Church (see Appendix 4). FIRIS requested that she reconsider the determination that Liberty Baptist Church should remain as an approved provider of SRE in NSW Government schools.
She chose not to.
In September 2019, the Director responsible for SRE responded on the Minister’s behalf stating –
“As outlined in RM17/2517 [the Department’s letter included Appendix 4], Liberty Baptist Church is an approved provider and has met the current requirements to maintain approval.“
On 10 February 2020 FIRIS wrote to the Secretary of the NSW Department of Education to complain that the Directorate responsible for SRE was failing to ensure that policies and procedures related to SRE were being implemented correctly and that representatives of the Department were failing to uphold the values of the NSW public service as defined in legislation (see link to letter below).
On 3 April 2020, Mr Garrie Russell, the Relieving Director, Early Learning and Primary Education, replied on behalf of the Secretary –