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Uniting Church probe confirms deceit in ACCESS defence

The decision by Uniting Church to form a task force and probe it’s relationship with ACCESS ministries, in addition to how best to teach Christian education, should come as welcome news to FIRIS supporters.

From the earliest days of dissent with the ACCESS monopoly, to exposure of Evonne Paddison’s blueprint for converting students and raising congregations within schools, to the so-called Federal Inquiry into adherence to education guidelines, one theme has persisted. That aggressive secularism and atheism is behind the criticism of ACCESS. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The feverish evangelical fervour of ACCESS ministries has proven time and again that it is at variance with mainstream Christianity and education guidelines that stipulate proselytising is forbidden. Concerned Victorians have been awarded lip service from ACCESS ministries and recidivist impotence from federal and state education ministers. Yet as so eloquently scribed by Rev. Ronald Noone in May this year, not only does Evonne Paddison believe her vision is just because “students are lost without Jesus”, such a claim is “manifestly untrue”. Elaborating, Noone continues;

There is, of course, a certain kind of evangelical Christian who believes the message is the same regardless of the context in which it is expressed. They believe this task is carrying out the God-given role assigned to them – to preach the Gospel and make disciples of all (Matthew 28). Given this is a primary text for many evangelicals, is it any wonder that conversion is an aim of their presence in school classrooms?

In contrast to a parish setting, a classroom is where formal education takes place and the overall aim is to promote knowledge and understanding of the ways in which human beings have made sense of the spiritual dimension in all of human experience. […] The classroom is a place to promote intellectual rigor and provide a context of genuine enquiry and where respect for religious traditions is matched by an honest and open appreciation of the theological, philosophical and exegetical complexities embedded in religious beliefs, texts, traditions and cultures. It is not a place for narrow forms of instruction.

Far from appreciating such an axiomatic notion, Paddison’s disdain for those who would articulate it came a week later in a Crosslight article, Christian religious education takes a secular beating;

What has developed over a few short months is a deliberate attempt by the media to start a faith war  – to divide Christians against other Christians; faiths against faiths; congregations against congregations.

It’s sensationalist journalism – find a schism in the foundation, a rat in the ranks, report the division and watch the Letters to the Editor or the news blog implode with atheistic comment. [….]

With 12 million Christians in Australia, and nearly 65 per cent of parents opting their children into CRE classes, Christians too should have a choice.  Detractors claim that CRE should be confined to Sunday. I’ve got news for them – God is with us, always, not just on the day of rest.

Her anosognosia as to her own role in creating such angst across the ranks of faiths, congregations and Christians was ironically summed up perfectly. In what has become a habit of self sabotage it is so often Paddison herself who confirms her unsuitability to be approving curricula, or to be directing volunteers;

At the same time anecdotal complaints have been made about children colouring in sheets saying “Jesus loves me”.

If we can’t make that claim as a faith educator, what is left?

Of course, whilst the substance of that claim may rightly be dear to the hearts of many the issue here is of ACCESS’ responsibility to education guidelines. One can only make that claim as an indoctrinator, and gentle as it may be it marks the point of departure from education to instruction. Put simply, if one does make that claim one is not a faith educator. Herein lies the problem.

For thirty four minutes at the 2008 Evangelical Fellowship in the Anglican Communion Evonne Paddison spelled out her plan to save Australian churches from “a slow death march”, through the application of CRE. We can be in no doubt about, and must not waver toward accepting excuses for, Paddison’s intention to shirk legislative responsibility in favour of theocratic vision. Much has been made of her comments to “make disciples”. But the speech contained far more insight into her conviction to the cause.

For ACCESS Sunday, Paddison provided the format for Christine Burford’s sermon at Naringal Baptist Church.

CRE workers are definitely there to present the gospel… our business is to transform lives and of course ACCESS ministries does represent God, so it’s gunna be attacked. No matter what it takes, God’s got a plan and he’s gunna bring it to pass, he’s Sovereign…

A board member of Arrow Leadership who subscribe to the Lausanne Covenant with a stated aim to “make disciples of every nation”, it is clear that education is far from Paddison’s agenda. A fellow board member is Bishop Stephen Hale, Chair of ACCESS ministries. Her conviction to succeed cannot be overstated. From 2008;

Reflecting his glory will inevitably mean following his path of humiliation and loss for the sake of bearing fruit. For the sake of winning others. These then are the principles for discipleship for all generations. Paddison went on to quote Amy Carmichael. “Can one have followed far who has no wound? No scar. Christ has called us to follow him through the glory of suffering to the glory of eternity”.

As a personal conviction this is nobody else’s business. Yet as the foundation “to reach every child in Victoria through the transforming love of God and His son, Jesus” it is robust confirmation of her intent to use the privileged position held by ACCESS. This is no “bread and butter” Christian values at play here. She seeks to;

…promote the same marks of discipleship for young people as those that the Bible presents to us. But of course, in a way that is appropriate and contextual to them. The first step in becoming a disciple is clearly believing, but so many of our young people have never heard the gospel.

Paddison stated that children and students are the greatest mission field for disciple making in Australia. Happy to admit classrooms are being used for ministry in place of education, “both at state level and at national level both in government and non government schools”, she goes on to challenge;

… but we must ask how much of that ministry is actually resulting in Christian conversion and discipleship growing and resulting in church growth? We have a huge challenge ahead of us. We must develop the right attitude and framework and goals and models in order to see not only Christian ministry taking place but conversion, discipleship and commitment to a Christian faith community. Clearly we need fresh thinking. There’s no question that to be a Christian is to belong to Jesus’ church. Membership of a faith community is vital. And our model for discipleship must include this. [….] We need to be like Jesus who became one of us and pitched his tent in order to reveal grace and truth….

At times one wonders exactly who the perceived beneficiaries of this plan really are;

Our engagement must show that Jesus is the best of all choices. Do not water it [Scripture] down. We have to reflect the relationships of the persons of the Trinity in our relationships in Christ’s new society. As we develop this perspective in our encounter with students we will tap into their longing for belonging and acceptance that has grown out of a world of divorce and division.

The theme of dealing with wounded children is central to her chaplaincy plans also. As we know, Evonne Paddison did not budge, insisting that her speech had been taken out of context. In July the Commonwealth Ombudsman criticised the National Chaplaincy Program. ACCESS went into damage control.

Suddenly ACCESS ministries “strongly support” the finding of the Ombudsman. Public debate about religion in schools is nothing new, we’re told pleasantly and has “it’s genesis” in the case being brought before VCAT and the High Court challenge. Evonne could now “acknowledge” some debate arose about her speech, but ACCESS still had no compromise to make.

I accept that parts of that speech could have better emphasised that ACCESS ministries does not and never has condoned proselytising in schools. I understand how people could have interpreted it otherwise… that was never my intention. What I meant is that ACCESS ministries has an opportunity to teach children what Christians believe.

ACCESS ministries forbids proselytising and we continue to respect the context in which we honour our privilege and serve the school community. The federal government recently conducted an investigation… and found no evidence that we had tried to convert in breach of government guidelines.

You couldn’t make this stuff up. Interestingly however, at the Forward Together rally just 72 hours before that “investigation” was made public, Paddison told the audience “this is a great ministry and we don’t want to be dependent upon the whims and changes of politicians”. Enraptured about the future expansion of ACCESS overseas Paddison insisted the crowd stand and plead allegiance to ACCESS. Then, almost menacingly;

The one we serve is the same yesterday, today and forever and His purposes will not be thwarted!

Recently Bishop Hales appearance at Nunawading before a small group of FIRIS parents was geared to be “…primarily an opportunity for ACCESS to clarify its program and philosophy and hopefully to respond to any misunderstandings.” What eventuated was a highly choreographed and predetermined agenda during which Hale took no responsibility for the shortcomings of ACCESS ministries. Rev. Paul Tonson, (coordinating) ran a strict time table which precluded Hale being properly grilled on many points.

He at least made no bones that being a Christian to him, meant making disciples. Yet a parent with a highly distressed child was offered an apology. A mother concerned at the segregation was informed this was the education department’s business.

At one point, defensively arguing the importance of Bible instruction in Australian classrooms Hale inexplicably offered;

Even Richard Dawkins says you cannot understand Western civilisation without understanding the bible

We’ve heard this before of course, in an almost identical appeal to authority from Evonne Paddison;

Our own Prime Minister, an avowed atheist, even referred to the relevance of The King James Bible in one’s life

With Paul Tonson’s reputation in interfaith dynamics and the importance of General Religious Education to many parents, there was expectation that some acknowledgement would be made about GRE’s promise. However, Hale stood his ground that exposing children to religious instruction was crucial. Most tellingly Acting CEO Rev.Denise Nicholls chimed in claiming that her “counterparts” wanted no such thing. We know from the 2006 census that Hinduism is Melbourne’s fastest growing religion, even though it’s absent from the rote mantra of “Jewish, Christian Orthodox, Ba’hai, Muslim”, that ACCESS reference to imply there’s not really any monopoly in RE.

Nicholls maintained there was no need for GRE. It wasn’t wanted by her counterparts and the need for individual instruction was reinforced by the “seventy or so” Hindu positions that had been created. Apparently parents wishes mattered not at all. Sounding like Paddison herself, Nicholls insisted “Besides it’s voluntary”, sweeping aside any hope of discussion that education about religion had a place in the classroom. It was plain the ACCESS view the notion of GRE as a threat.

Finally Hale slipped up. His house of cards was fragile already and then sounding distressed he offered that if parents bring children up not to believe in God “that’s likely how they’re going to end up”.

We only have a very small window of opportunity every week, but parents are the ones who have the full opportunity and we respect that.

“Opportunity to do what?”, responded John Bornas, FIRIS spokesperson. Hale began to answer about individual RI, and was immediately challenged again. But seeing where this would lead Tonson swooped to his rescue and intoned that he’d selected the sequence of questioners and John Bornas wasn’t heard from again. However it was quite clear Stephen Hale saw that half hour every week as an opportunity to preach the gospel as ACCESS saw fit.

There are of course, almost a legion of other issues and other identities well aware of the deception employed by ACCESS ministries in their quest to convert very young Victorians. Which brings us back to Uniting Church. Barney Zwartz writes;

THE Uniting Church, one of the key partners in Access Ministries that provides religious education in Victorian primary schools, has backed away from supporting the beleaguered agency.

The church’s state synod (parliament) declined to vote on a proposal that the church continue to support the work of Access, instead forming a task group to explore the relationship between it and the synod, and how best to teach Christian education. [….]

Annette Blaze, a Uniting Church representative on the Access board, proposed that the synod support Access, suggesting the ministry was victim of a campaign to attack the Christian base of Australia’s culture and noting that investigations by both state and federal education ministers found criticisms of Access were unfounded.

But the synod opted for a proposal by Macedon Ranges minister Avril Hannah-Jones to investigate the Access curriculum. ”There have been complaints. Some, clearly from the secular and new atheist perspective, I thought we could discount, but some came from parents and Uniting Church volunteers which I thought were worth exploring,” Dr Hannah-Jones told The Age last night.

Whilst it’s taken a long time to see something like this suddenly come to fruition of it’s own accord, it’s striking how static ACCESS ministries has been in formulating a proper response. Despite the anger, the denials, the obfuscation and the clumsy attempts at damage control the real substance of defence remains the same. There is “a campaign to attack the Christian base of Australian culture”. ACCESS is “a victim’.

Whatever happens, we all know that is just simply not true.

You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church

So reads Matthew 16:18.

Garrett’s so-called “federal inquiry” into the proselytising of ACCESS Ministries and their stated, observed and reported intention to “make disciples of our children and young people”  has miraculously “cleared” them of doing any such thing.

Backed by the bizarre claim that not a single substantiated complaint has been received, ACCESS Ministries is now free to build and you are free to pay for their bricks and mortar.

This is how a “God given open door” works in system where the state funds evangelism in schools.  You can forgive the politicians for handing over the money and refusing to uphold the principles of our school system … this is a group who openly and with no sense of modesty or introspection proclaim:

We know with absolute certainty that our message and the centre of our faith remains the same. It remains firm because the one we serve is the same yesterday, today… forever. And his purposes will not be thwarted.

Just why this kind of talk does not permanently place them in the “no go” zone, as far as vendors for organizations that should be hired by the Commonwealth or State … is one of the great mysteries of our time.

In The Age today Jewel Topsfield and Dan Harrison report;

A FEDERAL investigation into the Christian group that provides religious education in Victorian schools has found no evidence that its chaplains tried to convert students in breach of government guidelines.

The federal and Victorian governments ordered inquiries after a recording emerged of Access Ministries’ chief executive Evonne Paddison telling a 2008 conference: ”We need to go and make disciples.” […..]

But federal Education Minister Peter Garrett said the investigation found there had been no breach of the guidelines and no further action would be taken. He said he had received an explanation for the comments made by Dr Paddison and was satisfied the group was not trying to convert students.

Access Ministries had recently sent a letter telling chaplains who also taught Christian religious education in schools to stop doing so to avoid any blurring of lines in the roles.

”There are very strict guidelines in place to ensure that chaplaincy service providers do not engage in proselytising or misuse their positions, and we will fully investigate any complaints,” Mr Garrett said.

Victorians and the Education Union who have voiced concerns – and voted for an end to ACCESS funding have every right to be appalled at this whitewash. The concerns raised are specific to CRE and the evangelical passion of volunteers. Volunteers who in the main have less than one days training. Manufacturing a “solution” wherein chaplains have been told to no longer conduct CRE is poppycock. More so, this raises an entirely new dynamic. Is Paddison now admitting chaplains did proselytise to children or is this just a token gesture to “avoid any blurring of the lines”?

Last month, for example, ACCESS Ministries and education department representatives were invited to partake in preparation, and contribute to genuine parental evaluation with Hawthorn West Primary’s school council, then decided to have the DEECD shut it down.  Why?

It is because they claim that schools are “obligated to offer special religious instruction when it is made available by providers”, suggesting that the council had overstepped it’s obligation to comply with the Education and Training Reform Act, 2006. In other words: “you have no choice”.

We recently found out her goal to “reach every child in Victoria” includes independent schools – some of ACCESS Ministries harshest critics.  Paddison sees it as her business to change this. Reported in an Age opinion piece two days ago, was Paddison’s pronouncement at the ACCESS rally;

Those poor independent schoolchildren – I don’t want them to miss out

Talk about overstepping obligations to the Victorian Education Act. As the opinion piece pointed out;
One of the basic tenets of the Victorian Education Act is that public education should be secular, a sentiment that first emerged in the 19th century, and was reaffirmed in the past decade when the act was reviewed.

Whilst a few people seem to want no religion in schools, the intention of the secular principal is to have school avoid catering to religious beliefs or religious identity.  The schools would not “promote” religion.  This was a wise choice in days when Protestant and Catholic rivalries were high, but there now can be only less doubt about the wisdom of this approach today in a country fed by the rivers of every faith, and home to many who profess none.

When put this way, we hear that SRI is “entirely voluntary… that’s the beauty of it”. But of course, this is nonsense, and runs counter to the stated goals, aims and ambitions of those who are doing missionary work in our schools. It is in every way offensive to parents who are essentially pressured to not evaluate CRE and to remember there is no choice.

The problem is very simple. The wording of the legislation includes the word “may” offer religious instruction. It is conveniently interpreted as “must” offer RI. From here flows the ridiculous notion that it is compulsory for schools to allow these misguided and opportunistic purveyors of fantasy and bigotry into our children’s presence and thence begin misrepresenting the very world in which they live. As Paddison declared;

We must give our children and young people a model of discipleship that promotes belief in, and responds to the word of God. And trains them to abide in it. It teaches and models for them the love of God and how to be in a community of faith to love one another and love God’s word. We need a model that is marked by fruit bearing and involves our young people in evangelicalism and disciple making.

We need a model that points to the glory of Christ in his incarnation his work on the cross his resurrection is exultation and sees his disciples continuing that work and reflecting in in his world. We are constantly tempted to water this down in order to attract young people through our activities, our music, our fun, or whatever it is. Resist the temptation to replace substance with superficiality.

Our gospel is not in need of massaging for acceptability. It alone will transform lives and bring salvation. My view is that we have every opportunity to create new congregations through our schools ministries, as we do this we have the responsibility to fulfill the great commission of making disciples. We need to see our Scripture teachers, our chaplains, especially as facilitators of this as established Anglican churches.

We need to be missional. As leaders in the church we are called to be leaders and enablers of god’s mission for his world…. Our task is to have a biblical model of discipleship that is presented in a contextually appropriate manner… What really matters is seizing the God-given opportunity we have to reach kids in schools. Without Jesus, our students are lost.

Our churches in the West are on a slow death march. We have the opportunity to create life. It may be uncomfortable but so what? What a commandment, make disciples. What a responsibility. What a privilege we have been given.

Let’s go for it.

Inviting, and further funding operations who have this kind of view of things is a malignant and corrosive presence in our education system.  If you don’t object to this on the grounds that you believe it, imagine if a religion which you didn’t believe felt that Australia’s schools should cater to their beliefs in this way.

Peter Garrett must be proud that he is the rock (and piggy bank) on which this exploitation is being built.

ACCESS Rally celebrates a “marvellous year” and launches five year plan

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During the ACCESS Rally yesterday, Chair of ACCESS Bishop Stephen Hale waxed biblically to a largely ageing demographic that they had been “tested by fire”, this year. Later reminding the crowd this certainly applied to Evonne Paddison, ACCESS CEO.

He made a point of refuting any criticism about negative feedback. Teachers would surely know if such darstardly doings were afoot he reasoned. The education department had received no complaints… that were substantiated. “Not one”, he proffered erecting a single digit in celebration of past maths classes. Managing to even sound a little hurt Hale argued critics suggested that because ACCESS was fulfilling;

… government mandated requirements and obligations, that we by definition are therefore proselytising. Because that’s what’s been said hasn’t it? Again and again. We’re only in state schools because of the obligations and provisions of the education act of the parliament of Victoria… we don’t go in of our own volition and we don’t go in because we’ve muscled our way in, we go in because the government has made provision to be there… but nevertheless it has been said that all of us are involved in the business of proselytising, in fact seek to convert children in some intentional and deliberate way.

We recognise it’s an exercise that requires great wisdom and discernment in finding the balance between explaining the Christian faith, and telling children the Christian story and exposing children to Christian values and yet at the same time not seeking to impose or elicit some direct response. But it’s been said that because you’re volunteers you can’t possibly do that competently, because you’re not trained teachers. And that’s been said, has it not? Again and again as this public debate has gone on.

Paddison herself stuck to the “very positive” script, claiming this year had “…been a marvellous year for ACCESS Ministries and there’s much to celebrate. That’s what we’ll be doing today”. Last month saw ACCESS hit a new record for monthly donations. Over $120,000. “Feel free to double that next month”.

Evonne also referred to a “concerted attack” balancing, or perhaps dismissing it, with references to positive letters and feedback dominating at ACCESS. ACCESS is “not embittered and not in retreat”, she said. “Bring on the inquiries”. The mission will go on. “The one we serve is the same yesterday, today… forever. And his purposes will not be thwarted“, Paddison offered, giving us a peak at the type of mindset that can ignore the wishes of Victorians, the Education Union, health professionals and more. The ACCESS board had in February signed off on a new five year plan which will see expansion overseas and into independent schools. Launching the plan Paddison suggests it’s, “A blueprint for growth”.

ACCESS also praised the work of chaplains and will continue to pursue state dominance. Audience members were told over 100 new schools want chaplains. I find this an ambitious statement, but wouldn’t put anything past the National School Chaplaincy Association, given the clearly documented manipulation of figures to mislead the Australian public and federal parliament.

Paddison finishes with;

When we look into moving forward together, we know with absolute certainty that our message and the centre of our faith remains the same. It remains firm because the one we serve is the same yesterday, today… forever. And his purposes will. not. be. thwarted. So again I ask, will you stand with me and with ACCESS Ministries in moving forward together? Now I want to hear you say, ‘Yes we will’ and I want you to stand up and say it. Will you stand with me and ACCESS Ministries in moving foreward together?.

The crowd stands. “Yes We Will” they intone as one. “Hooray”, responds Evonne Paddison.

Full audio of speech below. Or direct download.

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ABC News

“Foward Together”: ACCESS Ministries plead for support

The Year of Our Lord two thousand and eleven has not been an easy one for ACCESS Minstries. CEO Evonne Paddison’s call to CRE volunteers to implant the gospel in schools, evangelise and convert the great “mission field” of unsuspecting young children to her discriminatory brand of biblical fundamentalism, was fully exposed.

Referring to a significant flaw in Victorian legislation as “a God given open door”, Evonne had in 2008 laid bare her plans to “go and make disciples” because “without Jesus, our students are lost”. Things became steadily worse with blatant denials of this intention coming from ACCESS at the same time numerous examples of calculated exploitation were being made public. The Victorian branch of the Education Union confirmed proselytising was a reality, voting for an end to ACCESS Ministries abuse of curriculum time. Perhaps the most damning confirmation was Evonne Paddison’s arrogance and fumbling at damage control, which merely fed distrust of the ACCESS “mission”.

The ACCESS theme of denial hasn’t wavered. It has only been buttressed by passive-aggressive opposition to grass roots reviews, absurd claims of being under attack from a malignant minority and litigious conduct orchestrated to silence exposure of confronting class material. Yet, things haven’t changed and even the most stubborn on the inside of ACCESS must see the fallibility in apportioning blame. There is a real need for ACCESS to motivate the troops, do a little house cleaning and beg for help. As Evonne says about indoctrinating our children, “The need is great but God is greater”.

Six days ago ACCESS were advertising for a curriculum writer, with “a passion for Christian ministry amongst children”. Okay, can’t get more clear in admitting overt ministering than that. Secondly, “training and experience in education and theology”. One hopes. But will ACCESS begin reciprocating with parents, teachers, community leaders and child health professionals? No. ACCESS will “stand firm in our commitment to serve our community, our society and our schools”. This Sunday ACCESS are running their CRE – Forward Together forum at The Melbourne Town Hall;

Lisa McInnes-Smith is a motivational speaker Victorian taxpayers have been supporting as an ACCESS Ambassador who is, “a huge fan of kids… I love to see kids get the word of God, get the encouragement from CRE teachers”. Pumping out a message to, well pretty much anyone, to join ACCESS and become a CRE volunteer Lisa sings the praises of ACCESS. “You’ll be blessed, the kids will be blessed and the community will flourish”. Motivational speakers specialise in moving listeners toward a predetermined outcome.

Lisa is first up on Sunday to get the crowd into the right frame of mind. As the Keynote she will spell out the basic framework and exaggerate the importance of ACCESS, whip the crowd into a positive frame of mind and drill the core intention of Sunday’s rally into the minds of attendees. Namely one of commitment, community service, devotion to the goals of ACCESS via CRE and the importance of joining as a team to move forward. As a Christian herself one may expect her to overlap into Inspirational Speaking and perhaps relay personal experience. In this case it’ll be the sort of account listeners will want to experience. No doubt the only way to do so will be through ACCESS.

The crowd will be softened up for Evonne Paddison – CEO of ACCESS Ministries. Evonne will reinforce the vision of ACCESS – to cover 80% of Victorian schools by 2012. To ensure “We Are There”. Apart from joyfully looking forward with inspiration, listeners will be fed a distortion of facts to create the illusion of being needed – indeed wanted. Paddison will rewrite history turning the appalling conduct of ACCESS Ministries, their failure of Victorians and exploitation of children into something to be proud of. Again the urgency and duty of ACCESS’ vision will be pumped out. Paddison believes this is her right and that any opposition or concern is most definitely wrong. Her tone will probably be much the same as usual, but her message will stress that ACCESS has been “under attack”, using this as an affirmation that ACCESS is indeed doing the work of God and fulfilling the intention of Jesus. As she stated in 2008;

It involves going where he went along a path of suffering carrying a cross and in this way becoming like him and reflecting him to a lost world. We are to be disciples and make disciples, we are not looking for a stress free pampered existence, not seeking popularity, not seeking health and wealth and happiness but followers of Jesus who have taken up crosses. Reflecting his glory will inevitably mean following his path of humiliation and loss for the sake of bearing fruit. For the sake of winning others… Can one have followed far who has no wound? No scar. Christ has called us to follow him through the glory of suffering to the glory of eternity. To follow and share that with him. Seeing and reflecting his glory is the mark of discipleship.
These then are the principles for discipleship for all generations.

Bishop Hale insists ACCESS has not breached guidelines, despite the many accounts of them doing just that. As Chair of ACCESS he’ll also give a glowing appraisal along with a solemn but truly worthwhile duty. One supposes it will be business as usual for Hale. The reality is this rally is confirmation of ACCESS’ concern at being caught out and asked to explain. To date they haven’t, preferring to sabotage and distort justified opposition. The rally title, Forward Together is testament to the impact all facets of community concern has had on the rather smug and dismissive attitude of ACCESS and particularly Evonne Paddison. Far from a vocal minority being unhappy with their conduct, criticism also comes from many practising Christians and other religious identities.

ACCESS Ministries is in reality centuries out of touch with a secular society tolerant of multi-faith and multicultural expression. They have operated Religious Education largely in breach of educational guidelines, and can seemingly continue to get away with it as governments court the powerful Christian Lobby. Yet even this misguided protection of votes has limits. Not only is their brand of fundamentalism one of strident exclusion, it is also one of superstition over science and guesswork over evidence. It is quite simply unhealthy and unwelcome.

As such Victorian students are treated as second rate pawns denied proper education about religious diversity and simple targets for conversion. No amount of moving forward together will change that.

Conversion concerns over R.E. in South Australia

South Australian parents are calling for the abolition of legislation that allows religious education seminars to be held in state schools. SA legislation allows for an average of half a day per term for the seminars. These are run by the South Australian branch of controversial and overtly evangelical religious education provider, Scripture Union.

Parent Tammy Joachin makes the very sensible argument we’ve been hearing around Australia and particularly in Victoria that the legislation allows for one dominating group to exploit their monopoly within public schools.

“It’s actually enabling external groups to come into our state schools and promote one particular world view to the exclusion of all others, and it’s opening the door to evangelism”, she says.

As in Victoria the classes are run on an opt out basis with the familiar problem of students having no meaningful alternative to fill the time otherwise devoted to religious education. S.A. Opposition education minister David Pisoni argues it’s time for a review of the legislation and that it’s also time to remove “any compulsion for religious education in government schools”. S.A. education minister, Jay Weatherill says he’s happy to listen to concerns and – dodging the heart of the problem – runs the tired old spin that the programme remains “optional”.

A most unusual statement given Pisoni is arguing for an end to compulsory R.E. This is also similar to Victoria wherein we hear ACCESS Ministries C.E. Evonne Paddison arguing that “the beauty of” compulsory classes here is that they are “entirely voluntary”. This problem of an opt out system from classes which schools are obligated by legislation to accept, rather than an opt in system seems to be one state governments have difficulty grasping.

Church groups say the seminars allow children to explore Christianity. Scripture Union S.A. deny they try to pressure children into Christianity. They provide for “children to really dig into a topic, understand something of the Christian perspective on those things, and have the opportunity to experience that in a really helpful, hopefully holistic educational way”, says Mark Schultz.

FIRIS Parents Discuss ACCESS Ministries & Public Education

Four parents interviewed by Ali Majokah of The Moving Media Project discuss ACCESS Ministries, religious education, it’s role in the public education system and more.

Topics include ACCESS Ministries volunteer suitability, evangelism of literal biblical belief to small children, exploitation of Victoria’s secular education legislation, the impact on children through segregation and divisiveness and the importance of inter-faith education – presently lacking in the ACCESS model.

Creationism, Heaven and Hell, Noah’s Ark “facts”, religious discrimination, wasted curriculum time and corrosion of Victoria’s unique secular education policy also come up. Originally in 1872 school education was legislatively protected from any and all religious dominance. By 1950, activist clerics sought to “Christianise” our schools.

The great camera work is by Colin Wirt. Thanks to The Moving Media Project for making this possible.

 

 

Education Department interference with school council review of CRE

Tim Heasley co-president of Hawthorn West Primary School, School Council, chats on air with Steve Vizard and Susie O’Brien over the recent interference in a school council review of religious education.

Council went to extraordinary lengths to provide a bipartisan and inclusive parent survey. This included consultation with ACCESS Ministries C.E., Evonne Paddison and Education Department representatives. However, departmental pressure has now been applied to withhold the survey.

Citing failure to mention the legislative clause that’s on everybody’s lips – that RE is compulsory – the Department of Education now refuses to endorse the survey.

As reported recently in Fairfax:

“A department spokeswoman said the council had not been prevented from issuing its survey but added that ”the department does not endorse it”.

”The survey withheld the fact that under the present legislation schools are obligated to offer special religious instruction when it is made available by providers,” she said. ”What we have asked is that the school council remember its obligation to ensure the school complies with the Education and Training Reform Act 2006 … and that it respects the views of the entire school community and maintains a constructive working relationship with the department.

The spokeswoman did not answer questions about whether the department was acting under instructions from the minister or under pressure from Christian religious education provider Access Ministries.”

The Education Act empowers a school council “to inform itself and take into account any views of the school community for the purpose of making decisions,” Mr Heasley said.

Education union secretary Mary Bluett said she was “amazed at the interference of the department in the operations of the school council”.

The school council intends to continue with plans to distribute the survey today.
 

Mike Stuchbery “silenced” by WordPress following complaint from ACCESS Ministries

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Mike Stuchbery hosts his blog with major blogging software provider WordPress.

At 9:30 AM today he tweeted; “I’ve been silenced! WordPress has disabled my ability to post on my blog, presumably upon a complaint from Access Ministries!”

Tweeted 09:30 June 22nd

 

One assumes – confidently – this is related to his June 15th post Cowboys and Chinamen? in which Mike originally published parts of an ACCESS Ministries resource, Man Hunters and linked to a PDF he had uploaded to his blog containing the full text. I’ll leave you to follow the link to Cowboys and Chinamen? The post describes a disturbingly anti-science theme to a story set in violent Victorian gold rush days with ample revenge, blood and shoot outs. Heading the post is an update – the reason for which I’ll get to immediately. Mike writes:

NOTE: As you may be aware, Access Ministries have threatened me with legal action over this blog post. I’ve made transcripts of the dialogue and removed all but one of the images. I believe what remains constitutes fair use of the text for the purposes of a critical review of the text.

This came about following circumstances outlined in ACCESS STRIKE BACK! posted by Mike on June 17th. Pop over to read the “Access Ministries, Infringement of copyright” letter from Nils Versemann, senior lawyer and trademark attorney for Moores Legal. We can spot what’s happened here. Mike’s response and intention is summarised in the quote above. It would seem this doesn’t satisfy “Our client’s requirement” as relayed by Nils Versemann. Namely:

Our client requires that by 5 pm on Saturday 18 June you:

  • delete your 15 June blog post;
  • delete the reproduction of our clients book from WordPress.com
  • destroy any other infringing copies or our client’s book in your possession, including any infringing electronic copies.

Our client further requires that by 5pm on Wednesday 22 June you provide a written undertaking not to reproduce our client’s book in whole or part without our client’s prior written permission.

If you fail to comply with these requirements in full, our client reserves the right to take copyright infringement proceedings against you without further notice.

You may read the full letter as a scanned image here and here.

It was certainly a bold move on Mike’s part. On the other hand, there are requests from ACCESS that are simply unrealistic and bullyish. Namely to delete any electronic copies – a demand impossible to police without infringing on Mike’s rights. Furthermore insisting on “a written undertaking not to reproduce”, is arrogant and unnecessary. Particularly given the quality of legal help Victorian’s are funding for ACCESS. Copyright law is quite clear in protecting the owner.

Mike’s letter would no doubt be filed to use as a legal sledge hammer against any further examination of the material that ACCESS deem appropriate to fill young student’s heads with. I would query the legitimacy of such a request made outside of the context of obligations to parties in fulfilling contracts.

It is distressing to see taxpayer monies being used in this aggressive fashion. No doubt similar requests to WordPress have led to an apparent suspension of Mike’s account. In proceeding with this action ACCESS have again sent a loud message to Victorians that they shall hold to their own script and defend it aggressively. If Man Hunter carries the theme of revenge, it appears it is mirrored in ACCESS’ defence of material. So, was this necessary or a ridiculous and vengeful overreaction by ACCESS?

A far more suitable way to deal with Mike’s ambitious reproduction would be to file a Digital Millennium Copyright Act – DMCA – infringement. Broadly speaking this consists of a Statutory Declaration pursuant to the relevant Act section, written by the copyright holder to the ISP – in this case WordPress, whose hosting servers are in the USA . ACCESS would claim exclusive ownership of material held at URL X, and claim in good faith that Mike’s use is not authorized, thus constituting an infringement of their copyright.

What follows is an immediate “DMCA Takedown” in which the material in question is removed pending confirmation. The complainant – ACCESS Ministries –  must then provide proof of ownership within ten days to uphold the complaint. The Act itself is explicit in placing the burden of action upon the ISP. They themselves have no jurisdiction over the material once the claim is made.

To satisfy the ISP a brief letter from Moores Legal confirming copyright would suffice. Mike would be free to post material of his own. This is made more compelling – if not absurd – in that to get WordPress to react as they have, the DMCA must have almost certainly been invoked or consulted by either or both parties. The DMCA infringement notice and copyright confirmation could have been emailed together by ACCESS Ministries itself.

Update [June 23]: Automattic is the company responsible for WordPress blogs. Their DMCA online submission form provides for the breach of ACCESS Ministries copyright, as outlined in the Moores Legal letter to Mike Stuchbery. Jonathon Bailey of Plagiarism Today has a comprehensive article on submission to WordPress.com – see Copyright Complaints.

Surely, this would have been a more suitable approach and a more worthy use of taxpayer funds. Such heavy handed tactics by ACCESS herald a most unfortunate precedent by a Christian ministry purporting to propagate Christian values. One can only struggle to imagine just how this particular caper would be relayed via cartoon.

In short there is simply no apparent legal need, beyond flexing financial muscle, served by involving Moores Legal.

Mike has already written about this issue on his other site, under the title Gagged!

His Twitter stream is here for those keen on developments.

ACCESS’ Covert Mission under “attack” from “loud, powerful” parents

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The Devil is a “living enemy” says chaplain Christine Burford of ACCESS Ministries. “We’ve seen the enemy’s work in our lives”. Yet whilst God is more powerful “be prayerful [don’t] fall into cockiness”, she advises speaking at Naringal Baptist Church on ACCESS Sunday, last May 15th.

Christine was “a lost sheep”, thinking independently at school and committing acts of wanton sailing by the age of 21. Fortunately, whilst in PNG in a “little thatch church” God “apprehended” Christine and “said will you trust me, now will you let me take over your life”. That was “a major significant experience”, Christine understates with absolute seriousness but now of course sees “many hands of God over my life”.

Apart from having a one way conversation with a deity who wanted to take over her life (she seemingly acquiesced), Christine also opines as to the “small groups with different world views”. Far from being just those who don’t get messages and instructions from God, it appears there’s a perceived attack from those who don’t hallucinate.

“We face the world… secular situations with other world views who have a loud voice and penetrate a swell, to bring unrest and undermine the work of God in schools and of course ACCESS Ministries does represent God, so it’s gunna be attacked”. In fact Christine likens this “opposition” (of having a different world view) to opposition to the rebuilding of the ancient biblical wall of Jerusalem. Strangely, I didn’t see that coming – seriously!

Delusion, arrogance and battle regalia aside, all thinking Australians must by now be asking just what is our government doing handing money to a group that propagates and perpetrates the type of far, far “out there” biblical fundamentalism that has wrought so much division and plunging educational standards in American schools. Whatever “values” our children are receiving it’s coming from people who dismiss any other ontology or interpretation as an attack – as unGodly. As “the enemy’s work (Satan) in our lives”. They alone hold the key to our kids salvation.

Incredibly, free thinking and moderate Christians apparently do not “represent God” in the view of ACCESS Ministries. Never mind the unbelievers from other faiths that make up an ever growing proportion in Australian society or the “secular situations” like those which are designed to protect education from exactly this type of abuse.

One can thank Christine for confirming on ACCESS Sunday that teachers are not always in the room with CRE volunteers, in clear dissonance to Denise Nicholls’ assurances. They may be “nearby, you can call the teachers if you’re having trouble”. Also troubled kids need to be loved “as they are”. Christine says with superb irony, “behaviours are a really a symptom of a deeper cause… something much deeper is going on”. And what does ACCESS recommend? To pray for these children. Ask them to help tell bible stories. This failure to deal with abuse or neglect is exactly what The Australian Psychological Society raised concerns over.

Later, Christine expresses her own concern over possible secular welfare workers and non-Christian interfaith presentation of comparative religions. “What body would deliver comparative religions?”, she asks after seeking prayerful support for ACCESS Ministries to have these roles. Because in Christine’s eyes, the Devil is at work against ACCESS Ministries.


Derryn Hinch interviews Vic. Education Minister, Martin Dixon

Derryn Hinch at Radio 3AW interviews Victorian education minister, Martin Dixon on May 27th, over the ACCESS Ministries evangelist mission to convert public school students. ACCESS C.E. Evonne Paddison is on record as stating this is vital, that every student “desperately needs Christ in their lives” and that “Without Jesus our students are lost… let’s go for it!”.
Chairman of ACCESS Bishop Stephen Hale – co-architect of the ACCESS “Mission” – claims this is inaccurate and ACCESS Ministries is unfairly blamed over what seems an abuse of class time and curriculum. ”We believe we’ve been unfairly caught up in an issue that at heart is a government responsibility,” says Hale.
A number of videos here confirm parental complaints to both ACCESS and the education department. Hale denies ACCESS has received any such feedback.

Martin Dixon also denies complaints have been made. Ducking direct answers he does a poor job of defending ACCESS Ministries and the current fundamentalist content being fed to young children. Passing the buck to teachers over lost study time and “advice from theologians” (as to what proselytising is) Dixon still insists he has no intention of changing legislation but will await the outcome of an upcoming VCAT case – discussed here.

If ACCESS must remain a simple solution would be a major overhaul that must include removal of Hale, Paddison and their army of evangelist volunteers.