All posts by Scott

UJEB likes putting the only Jew in the corridor to concentrate!

This comment appeared on the UJEB facebook page, and if there is any better more testimony of the moral bankruptcy being advocated though the school policy FIRIS seeks to end, I don’t know what it is.   This comment was “liked” by UJEB – which tells us a lot about UJEB.

In what other ways besides this can we come up with government sponsored techniques to help Australian Jews “confront the situation of who they are or aren’t”.  Surely if Jewish Australians benefit from having their kids segregated by SRI, by all means, we should welcome discrimination.  After all, in country where your children are not put in the hall to “concentrate” … how on earth will you know “who you are”?

I wish to point out that evidence from all over the world suggests that Jews can survive being *not* treated differently in schools, and that it does Jewish families no harm to allow them to choose the means by which they choose to segregate or not segregate their children. Making a virtue of out of segregation imposed by a public institution is obscene.

gold star

While we don’t doubt the sincerity of Elli Smith’s views on segregation being something that helped her nearly seven year old self find the space to meditate on her “Jewish Identity” – we suggest to UJEB that this is completely unacceptable to others – and we’ve made this clear.  UJEB may feel that these small acts of official systemic segregation are salutary for “Jewish Identity”, but we sincerely disagree.

We believe that Jewish parents in Australia are perfectly happy to be treated no different from everyone else and that having their children put out in the hall so that their religious identity can be emphasised is highly unwelcome.  Here is one such person if you can’t imagine a Jewish FIRIS supporter actually wanting their children treated the same as everyone else while they are in school:

Religious freedom does not mean freedom to preach in schools


The Liberal Party in Australia, taking a page from the Religious Right in America, has hit on a new “slogan”.  The slogan is “Religious Freedom”.

You are going to hear this a lot in the coming months.  FIRIS supports “religious freedom” too, its one of the mainsprings of a free and open society.

One does not however support religious freedom if, as a politician, one believes that the Government should “accredit” religious groups to do missionary activities inside its schools, at the same time that it ALSO obligates children to be present inside these schools.  This is very important for everyone to understand.

Australian Colonists, in the 19th century were among the first peoples ever to cast off the denominational and sectarian dictates in establishing an education system which was “founded on” the “secular principle”.  The reason they did this was exactly because of “religious freedom” – the colonists then, unlike the Liberal Party today, understood that education was vital to the prospects of this distant land, and further they realized that keeping Government out of the affairs of religion was good policy.

Religious Freedom meant then, and it means now, “no religious tests” for “office.  This phrase is actually in the Australian Constitution, but the courts have not felt it should apply to “school chaplains” – the liberal Government now wants to make policy which imposes a “religious test” to perform “welfare work” in its schools.  It also wants to place this decision in the hands of “school principals”.  This is not religious freedom, it is handing out favors.

Similarly, the policy of “Religious Instruction” places the authority of the Minister of Education in the control of “religious groups”, who then have the authority to tell everyone in the schools what do do during a certain time of the day.

This is not “religious freedom” it is coercion.

Here is proof of this.  In this clip you will hear and ACCESS Ministry volunteer proclaim that they are happy that when they go into schools, the children whose parents do not want them to receive “religious instruction” are made to sit in the room and listen to the lessons.

The speaker clearly states that she is happy about this, because the “message of the gospel” is still being heard.

In short, “religious freedom” in the context of school policy in Australia means:

1.  granting licences to religious groups to operate inside its schools

2.  forcing people who object to these “religious teachings” to have their children endure the teachings whether they like it or not.

Religious Freedom does not mean that you are entitled to close my children in a room with evangelists and force them to listen to their religious teachings.  That is what happens all the time in State Schools, because a very small group of activists lie and claim that their religious freedom is being imposed on if they can’t preach to my children and if the Government of Australia will not set up exclusive funds to pay the salaries of Chaplains, which are then handed over to only some religious organisations.

Welcome to the newspeak version of “Religious Freedom”


Mustard Gas

At the center of the faux controversy about “banning bibles” in schools is a lie being told to distract people from an activist missionary group run by an Evangelical Church in Kew, a wealthy inner east, Melbourne suburb in the State of Victoria.

Working from a base at St. Hilary, is a man named Tim Clare, and his office is located inside St. Hilary’s Anglican Church in Kew, which is also home to Stephen Hale, an influential Evangelical Bishop, who was recently the Chairman of ACCESS Ministries and the advisor to Australian Lausanne Delegation, and also the Peter Corney Training Centre.  Nominally it isn’t clear if Tim works for St. Hilary, but his organisation, Mustard, was set up by the clergy at St. Hilary, which is known for its assertive evangelical outlook on the Christian faith.  It is not hard to find Christians in Melbourne who are unimpressed by the theology on offer at St. Hilary.

Recently Tim Clare has decided that he can claim the status of a persecuted minority and is the victim of governmental overreach, but this recently adopted mantle of persecution is fiction.

What Tim Clare does is go into schools and look for other people to convince to believe the same doctrines that he does.  The term “disciple”, is shorthand for the act of convincing people who are unaware, or of a different opinion on the “doctrine of salvation”, these people might belong to a different religion, or they may be part of a different part of the Christian tradition, or they might belong to no religion at all.  These people are spoken of as a “mission field”.

Recently, in what surely is a rare clearing of the fog that surrounds these evangelical groups, the Department of Education decided to ask schools to close the door on evangelism and proselytising, that men like Tim Clare organise in our schools.

The effect of this is like setting up a “marine sanctuary” and asking people dragging nets not to enter.  Inside the marine sanctuary all sorts of fish can be found.  Tim Clare wants to be fishers of these men.
tim clare  People should not be confused by the use of euphemisms when evaluating the claims of “persecuted” Christians like Tim Clare.  The content of what Clare means when he says “following Jesus” is to tell other people about his doctrine of “salvation”.  This aspect of Christianity is primary to his variety of Christian, his nets have “salvation shaped” mesh in them.

But “salvation” has no “values” content, it divulges nothing about what a person stands for, other than where they stand on the question of where they believe they will go after they die.  It is first and last a religious belief, and its one that is not held to be part of the purpose of a secular education system.  Your salvation is not the business of the Department of Education … Tim Clare however is very eager to remind them about the consequences of “not believing in Jesus”.

In order to bring people “to faith in Jesus” Tim Clare, wishes to perform his Ministry inside the public schools in Australia.  Here is how he puts it:

Secular education should not mean the absence of religion in schools or religious activities by students during school hours.  Faith plays an important role in the growth and development of many students. We think secondary students of all faiths (including atheist or agnostic students) should be able to live out their faith in their schools, including meeting with other students and sharing and discussing religious materials. Subject to the support and approval of schools, we also think this should include appropriate participation from external groups. (emphasis ours).


This is a classic example of “euphemism” and “obfuscation”.  Clare equates the lack of HIS MINISTRY in schools with an “absence of religion”.  He makes motherhood statements about ‘faith” which are intended to disguise that he is pursuing a very specific objective with regards to “religion” and he completely downplays the fact that his objective is proselytising.
Clare has called in the The Australian Christian Lobby who have called in Members of Parliament, and spread the word in churches that the “government” wishes to “ban bibles” – but, very sensibly, what the Minister has done is asked schools to remove “external groups” (ie to remove him).

Obviously, since Tim Clare is a paid evangelist whose income and professional status is based on the propositon that he is allowed to do “Ministry in Schools”, he objects to this.  But Tim Clare wants to be in schools for the same reason that Willie Sutton reported that he robbed banks because “that is where the money is” .  If you’re looking for converts, then go where the young people are and …and go there often.

Imagine however, after being caught robbing the bank, Willie Sutton just wanted us to believe that his intent was to “look after the money”.  This is exactly what Tim Clare wants to now tell us.

Tim Clare has was quoted in the paper as claiming:

“We totally understand schools are secular – we are respectful of that environment. Our particular focus was to support students who have a faith.”

Read more:

The logic of the child evangelist is more or less that they they wish to free the hounds by forbidding the rabbits to have holes, but instead of admitting that he’s “seeking disciples” he now claims he’s “supporting students”.

Sound familiar?  Yes, this is more or less the same claims that the advocates of chaplaincy in schools want.  In fact, right there on the Mustard page you can see that it was a nexus between Chaplains and Mustard that got the whole ball rolling, and if this all sounds more or less like what Evonne Paddison laid out in her “Make Disciples Speech” … then you get a gold star for paying attention.

Consider for a second:  Should parents have any right to assert that our schools are not seen as part of the “mission field” operated by the organised church run group seeking to disciple children?

Tim Clare wishes to make it seem like he’s in the schools to support people who are having a “hard time living their faith” … but this disguises a plain and simple evangelistic and expansionist missionary agenda which was plainly on display until someone started asking where we should draw the lines with religious groups operating inside schools:

leadershipWhat is going on now is that Tim Clare is furiously trying to reverse his agenda from “seeking to engage high school students in conversations about life through Jesus” to arguing that his group merely “appropriately supports students who already have a faith in Jesus”.

So right there you have have evidence of the lie – when pressed, Tim Clare simply changes his “mission” from one “seeking” to one “supporting” … by objecting to this program, FIRIS is not pursuing a policy of neutrality by upholding the secular principles of public education, but instead removing a vital support service that a minority needs.

This simple act of dishonesty ought to disqualify him from being in our schools, but as we’ve seen over and over, people who feel they are justified in seeking converts among other people’s children, have no compunction about telling lies for the right to do it.

These are Tim Clare's stated goals

These are Tim Clare’s stated goals


Australian Christian Lobby wants our schools … can they have them?


The Australian Christian Lobby has just opened a assault on the education system in Australia, and now we get to see whether Australian politicians can defend the very foundations of this country … the secular foundations.

Flynn wants to be in ... your school, so he's claiming that Martin Dixon has "banned prayer" ... this is a lie.  What has been "banned" is the practice of opening schools to "youth pastors" who want to run worship services in schools.

Flynn wants to be in … your school, so he’s claiming that Martin Dixon has “banned prayer” … this is a lie.
What has been “banned” is the practice of opening schools to “youth pastors” who want to convert children to their religion in our schools.

If you are a person who values the secular traditions that underpin our laws and things like our education system, now you get to see if you are at the mercy of a tiny minority who want to impose their religious agenda on you and your children.  Here is what is going on, if you haven’t been following along at home:

In May, the Minister of Education in Victoria, Martin Dixon, issued “Ministerial Directive 141” which is not a new law, but rather a clarification of how state schools in Victoria are supposed to operate, with relationship to the practice of “Special Religious Instruction” in Victoria (this is one of the states in the Commonwealth of Australia, for you people reading this from overseas).  The Minister of Education has the power to make rules that apply to the 1200 or so primary schools, which educate around 60% children in Victoria.  There are about 300K children in Victoria’s state run primary schools.

The “Ministerial Directive” has the effect of law, (it is 7 pages long), and deals with the conditions under which Victorian Schools are supposed to deal with people from outside the schools who which to teach religion in schools, which is provided for in the 1950’s era amendment to the Education Act (of Victoria) which is currently called section 2.2.11.

Today, Jewel Topsfield, writing in the AGE, reported that Prayer Groups were banned in Schools.  The choice of terms here is because of an assault launched last week by the tiny, but ambiguous “Australian Christian Lobby”, who have chosen to attack the Minister of Education as “banning prayer groups” … the question is will they win?

The Christian Lobby has spun this as an “assault on religious freedom”.  It is nothing of the sort, but in launching this attack, we get to watch if Australian politicians can stand up for the ideas that underpin our nation.

Why does this matter?  It matters a great deal because, Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) has chosen to go “all in” on this matter and if the Minister of Education yields to them, then it means that a small group of radical right leaning activists who claim to speak for Christians give marching orders to the people who run our schools, and its a challenge to the very definition of what secularism means in Australia and it is an important test to see if anyone, in a position of political power, knows how to argue in defense of “secular education” in Australia.

Speaking as a long time advocate of the meaning and moral purpose of secular education, I have to admit, I’m scared.  I’m scared because in the course of history, great changes can be imposed by just few determined individuals.  The Christian Lobby in Australia works very hard to take away the hard won freedoms of Australians and to impose on people, their ideas of what a good society is like, and they do it, just as they have done here, by lying to you.

This issue is a good “case study” of how they operate, and its nice for a change, to see them not talking about how awful gay people are.  If you listen to what they are saying, it is classic right wing agit prop.  They claim that Martin Dixon has “banned prayer”.  Nothing of the sort has happened, but no matter, ACL is spinning this using tropes that appeal to easily manipulated fears.

If you want to test how absurd this is, go to your local school, sit down on a bench in the playground and say a prayer.  No storm troopers will arrive.  No matter how long you sit there and pray, no official will harass you for praying.

What is really going on here is that finally, the Department of Education has told evangelical christians that they can not use our schools as “mission fields” and they can not send their pastoral staff into our schools as an extension of their “youth ministry”.  This happens in a lot of ways, but ground zero in this case is the Youth Pastor at St. Hilary, in Kew, Peter Carolane, who runs a program called “Mustard“.

This kind of program is dear to the Australian Christian Lobby because it provides a vital “open door” to evangelism in schools.  Here is how the program is described:

In 2003 a seed of an idea blossomed into existence when Peter Carolane saw a need for high school students to be engaged in genuine conversations about Jesus.  At the time Peter was ministering to young people in a local church with proximity to a large number of schools, and he was receiving regular invitations from chaplains and other school workers to minister in their contexts. Peter was backed by his church to create an independent schools ministry called Mustard where he would join with other passionate individuals from across Melbourne to support Christian students in their school lives and engage a large number of students with the message of Jesus. Peter and his friends had faith the size of a Mustard seed…

In Australia, youth pastors, have “proximity” to “a large number of schools” and they are free to open their doors and invite everyone to join them in worship … this is not enough “religious freedom” what they want is the freedom to be allowed to operate INSIDE the public schools.  It is not enough “freedom” to stand outside the schools and “invite” people to pray with them, they want to be allowed to “run programs” inside the schools.

What the Minister of Education has said is, something to the effect of “our schools are not your mission fields”.  This is really no different that if the minister of Education had said to the Liberal Party or the Labor Party, that they can not go into schools at lunchtime and hold political rallies.  For the most part, it is simply understood by private corporations and political parties that schools are not venues created for their benefit, and that common decency means that the people who run the schools are not supposed to be targeted for political activism so you can promote your agenda or sell your products to the children in the schools.

The angle chosen by the ACL in this matter is wildly dishonest.  They neglect to disclose in their agit prop that what has been supposedly banned, is not “prayer by students” but the proposition that “youth pastors” like Peter Carolane, who are ordained priests (in this case) should be allowed to make schools an annex of their churches. 

The ACL are counting on people buying into their spin that the Minister of Education is stopping children from owning the bible, or reading the bible, or praying … when what is really going on that the Minister of Education has wisely said, “our schools are not venues where groups like Hillsong, or “Mustard’ – which are run as businesses by tax exempt corporations can have a licence to operate.

A policy like this is a good policy – schools are not “mission fields” and Australians have a right to expect that our schools are not operating as extensions of Hillsong or St. Hilary’s in Kew.  No one’s religious freedom is imposed on by asking St. Hilary’s in Kew to abstain from using local schools as a venue for “ministry”.

Now we get to see if Australian politicians, who are right now being targeted by a dishonest and hysterical group of evangelicals, will “make a stand” … or if they will blink and hand over our children as a “mission field”.

FIRIS can only do so much … I have personally been attacked, on our social media, for being “anti secular” by prominent “atheist activists” and by prominent “Christian Political Activists”, specifically because I have called for a “secular” policy in our schools, which relies on the good will of all Australians to safeguard the religious freedoms and private rights that families have to follow or not follow a religion and I say, our schools should not be cutting deals with groups seeking to “make disciples” of other people’s children.

The Australian Christian Lobby has thrown down a challenge, and it will be interesting to see if their dishonest tactics work.  Should religious groups be allowed to send people into schools to organise worship and recruitment programs?  That is what the Minister of Education has made rules about – and these are good rules, I think they should be stronger, because no religious group should set policy in our schools and people should accept that religious freedom in this country means accepting that we all agree to pursue our religious ideals, without appropriating public property and public policy.

St. Hilary wants to run a youth ministry inside our schools … we respectfully say, “that’s just not on”.

The premises of the Australian Christian Lobby are totally wrong … no we get to see if anyone cares to “make a stand”. Are our schools run as extension offices for “youth pastors” on a “mission” or are they public institutions which religious groups must respect as “off limits’.  No child in Victoria is harmed because religious groups must all agree to refrain from using our schools.  We should all agree to while school is in session, “youth ministry” is not part of the syllabus.

The Christian Lobby says wants you to think this isn’t fair … I say that they are lying to you, and that politicians need to hold this line.

Stay tuned, you now get to see if our political leaders are owned by the ACL or if they understand the most hallowed of Australian ideals … everyone is free to pray, but that isn’t what the ACL wants.  They want to have a franchise to use our schools as “mission fields”.

If you want to see what this looks like:

How Atheist Polemics make my life harder: A teachable moment


Recently, I’ve taken to letting “Scarlet A-Holes” know why their constant confusion of atheist polemic with our campaign to get rid of SRI in state schools in Victoria is a problem.

A “Scarlet A-Hole” is anyone who has bought into the framing of atheism that Richard Dawkins has offered up, and generally it is anyone who can’t keep the distinction between “anti-religious polemic” and “good public policy” clear in their heads, and definitely it is anyone who has agreed with Dawkins that Atheism needs to be “out” and marked by a “Scarlet A”.

scarlet a

Let me also be clear that I’m not just on a rant “against” atheism, but I have something to say about this because, whether I like it or not, Scarlet A-Hole’s show up in my life constantly, ironically because of the good things I’ve done for them.  When I tell them, in the same, uncompromising terms that they feel should be applied to entire swaths of humanity, that THEY are being  are idiots, they turn on me personally.   To which I say, “screw you scarlet A-hole” (hey, he can’t say that!, you must apologise!).

I’d like to offer a “teachable moment” to try to explain how, bringing your “atheist polemic” into my campaign which addresses a problem of a religious nature, does in fact make my life harder.  Then, from this rather minor example, I’ll give a few more, just to explain why I think that the cause of the problem is in fact “atheist polemic” and not just a few bad apples who can’t think straight.  Atheists are not born this way, they are encouraged by their heroes to be un-helpful (to me).

So, here is what happened.  Yesterday, I sat down and addressed a blog post to Mandy Bowes, who I suspect is an SRI instructor in Victoria.  Like many SRI instructors in Victoria, her once a week volunteer job, “Sharing the Love of God and His Son Jesus” with my child, via my school, via a policy known as “SRI” (details matter but look them up if you don’t know what I’m talking about), is about to go extinct.  For example, it has gone extinct in Kew, where FIRIS has made the school “SRI” free, with the specific help of “religious people”.

Don’t get me wrong, what I wrote was not intended to be “kind” or sympathetic to Ms. Bowes, whom I assert is “doing harm”.  What I had to say however was very specific, and didn’t go beyond the facts or what I would be happy to defend to anyone.

Within an hour of my posting this on or webpage, where I intended her to see it, almost like clockwork, someone amplifies what I wrote by adding their $.02:




This comment is a classic example of how “atheist polemic” doesn’t work in real life.  It is a classic example of why it is important to use the right words and to know what you are talking about and to have thought about things, before you try to “help” FIRIS (or me), because invariably, my adversaries want me to be you, and I’m not you.  I don’t wear a Giant Red A and stand neatly in ordered rows out in the open where I can easily be gunned down by the smarter, more committed, better financed and better educated people who I’m trying to defeat.  To quote Mel Gibson, “aim small, miss small”.

This comment, contains all the elements that make “atheist polemics” exciting, pant wetting moments for “Scarlet A-holes”:  first the use of the word “stupid”, religion is a fairy tale (check), and then the headline grabber, “it is child abuse”, and to top it off, “you’re a child abuser” (check, check and check) … well who knew!  Richard Dawkins says it, it must be true!


What am I supposed to do here?  Thank this person for posting that on my page, where I have left it specifically to signal that teaching SRI is not something that parents (like me) appreciate, and that there will be war if you come into our schools and do this to our kids?

So watch what happens next:


James Lane, who is among the people who want to stand up and defend the policy that I’m arguing against, grabs onto this polemic, and uses it to discredit FIRIS, specifically what this does is changes the conversation from  what is wrong with SRI, to what is wrong with “religion” and then ups the ante by absurdly bringing the idea of “abuse” into the discussion in a way that our argument does not.  This makes Chuan Chew’s life harder (Chuan is among the parents who actually work on FIRIS, as opposed to the people who “like” FIRIS on FB, or unlike FIRIS on facebook because you got insulted by FIRIS) – thank Chuan, you’re awesome.  James Lane may be a lot of things, including “wrong” but I assure you, he is not “stupid” and if I had to rank his intelligence, I’d guess it is was higher than anyone who has ever bought a scarlet A t-shirt from the RDFRS (god help us).

So this is what I mean by “atheist polemic” being harmful to the actual policy debate.  The problem that some atheists have, especially ones who uncritically valorise men like Richard Dawkins, and since Richard Dawkins says these insanely illiberal and stupid things, they say them too.  It is a “learned” trope.  A “meme” if you will.  Its a meme making dodo birds of you “Scarlet A-Holes”.

There is a difference between calling someone a “child abuser” and telling someone what what they are doing is “hurting your child” or “hurting education” or any of the thinks like this that I’ve said.  But I don’t think Mandy Bowen is a “child abuser”.  Calling her this only gives her something to make me look like an extremist about, and it takes away the meaning of “child abuse”.  My argument is specific, and I’m happy to bring the actual children into the discussion to establish the harm (and I have done so).   Child abuse is also something that signals other things, which crosses into territory where parents in our culture loose their rights, so when a public intellectual like Richard Dawkins goes there, it extracts a price that first of all makes atheism untenable as effective political speech, but also is hurtful in ways that are likely not well thought out.

What I dislike is that FIRIS puts in the hard yards, and then “Scarlet A-Holes show up to preen in public, ostensibly thinking that their “support” is meaningful to me.  When I tell them they are idiots, they turn and attack me, for being “against atheism”.  I’m for atheism, I’m just against using it to oppress the rights of others, this is really no different than being for Islam (I’m not a Muslim), but against its rules being made to bear on public institutions which I feel I have a right to influence.  Do I wish to interfere with a Muslim father’s rights?  Only in ways that I feel should apply to all citizens of this country.

Let’s consider for a second the how it would seem to a religious family to have to hear that their most cherished practices, customs and values are “child abuse”.  Let us try to think beyond the limits of our own emotions about what this would mean.

Let’s say you are a Hindu family, or a Sikh family, just to pick two examples that I can speak about in specific.  You support FIRIS’s aims but you are deeply uncomfortable about the way atheists carry on, because after all, being a Sikh or Hindu, is how you hope to raise your kids.  Some Oxford professor is on the TV, sounding all the world like the “Britishers” (as they are called in your home country of India) who used to rule in India.  If you really think that sincerely telling a Sikh family that their “ways” are abusive to their kids, is either true, or even remotely acceptable, you are an idiot.

Australians should be able to proudly say that you are free to be Sikh and an Australian.  When a character like Dawkins wades into the education debate and give no real thought to the way religious families view these matters, and just wants to have a polemical assault on “religion” as if he is on a quest to rid us of it … well, lets just say that it has costs, especially if his ideas, become your policy convictions.

If atheists want to be relevant, they need to learn to think.  Here is an example of how men like James Lane reason:

Here is an example of how atheists reason:

In the fist clip we see the kind of argument which is politically effective.  That argument does in fact happen on the floor of parliament in Australia, and it convinces a lot of people, and this is more or less why the “Chaplaincy” program isn’t going away.

In the second clip, however, we see a typical “atheist polemic” brought into the public arena, by an ordinary bloke, his clothes indicate that he’s not speaking from the same platform as an Oxford professor, but notice how he’s saying the things that Dawkins or Hitchens would say.  This is likely because he’s read or absorbed these polemics, and now, he has chosen to use this in public.  A fraction of the audience of course loves this.

But this comment was not a great thing to do at that time at that place, it gave Justine a chance to seem reasonable and allowed her to give her predictable answer … and to take the conversation to a place where most people can’t follow because only atheists and theologians have any clue what the hell they are saying,  and frankly this is what Justine Toh is happy to discuss, rather than the real world lives of our children.  Memo to atheists:  quoting Leviticus may feel like you scored a point, but to the average person it not on.  So just like on the FIRIS webpage, at public events that are being argued by FIRIS’s A team of intellectuals, people reading from the atheist script show up and “grab the mic”.  Did you really think that Tim Costello and Justine Toh weren’t going to eat you for dinner on that one?  Bonzer.

Contrast this to a person reading off of the FIRIS script:

Thank you Ruben, thank you for using the air time to talk about why we were there in the first place, and thank you for speaking in a way that connected with everyone, pro and con, on this issue, and thank you for not acting out an “atheist polemic” up in public and doing something like ask religious people to tell you how they decide what is morally right (as the atheist questioner did).

Atheists, you have a problem.  Its an intellectual problem, and I can show it to you, but I can’t make you think.

Keep in mind, I am not “bashing atheists”, which is very fashionable to resent.  I’m saying something much more subtle, I’m saying that when you bring your “atheist polemics” into public debate, you make my life harder.  When you say things like “religious indoctrination is child abuse” as opposed to what I’m saying, which is “our schools should not be venues for religious indoctrination” , you make it much harder for me to deliver you schools that don’t do religious indoctrination.

Second, I’d really like you to think about what you are saying (for a change), especially if you feel that your thoughts need to broadcast on our website or in public places like the Wheeler Centre.  If you really think “religious indoctrination is child abuse” then you are a “scarlet A-hole” and you are totally out of touch.  Men like Richi Madan, support FIRIS, but not because we promise to “rid the world of superstition and religious dogma”, but because a secular school system protects his interests, and my interests equally.

We also want a school system that makes a world in which children are not raised to be so vastly stupid that bash his children because they think, they’re Muslim and must be kept out of “their country” (leave aside the issue of why people want to kill members of that religious group whom they mistake him for), but your polemics are simply not good public policy.  You haven’t thought it through.


To quote a recent line leveled at FIRIS:  Atheists, if you can’t deal with this, we will.


Oh, Mandy!


‘Tis the season for SRI instructors to chastise FIRIS.

We might as well get this out of the way.

The latest manifestation of this is Mandy Bowes.  Who writes in to ask us what we’re scared about!



We’re going to have a lot of this kind of thing going on, and everyone better get prepared for it.  A few ground rules.

Mandy, assuming that you are part of the SRI system, you should be ashamed of yourself.

For years parents have been lied to, because you feel like showing up in a room full of our children, with your bag of lollies on what ACCESS Ministries calls a “mission in your own back yard”.  What is especially upsetting is how presumptuous you are in the lives our families and your desire to do our job as parents.  Shame, shame on you.

We are not happy that SRI still “must” be offered if you present yourself at our school and demand to “offer SRI”, but the whole charade you are playing here is that you want to transform yourself into “an accredited SRI provider” in our school, just because you showed up with 6 hours of instruction.

Set aside for a moment the staggering lack of professionalism that it shows to suspend anything like teaching standards, so that you and other so called “well meaning” people can teach religion to our kids, on top of this nonsense, you lie about it.

The forms that you’ve been giving to parents, were first “opt out”, that is to say that to avoid you at all, we had to tell our school to please have our child sat out in the hall while you came in and related whatever version of religion you felt like, out of books that were sold to us by telling us that the lessons were approved.

We later learned that these lessons were never reviewed by the department of education, and were not at all what you claim them to be.

We were then told that the lessons would be “opt in”, of course that’s not true either, we still have to say “no thank you” in order to “advise the school” that we don’t want to attend your “classes”.

Then there is the whole issue of the fact that you still won’t tell us why you can’t or won’t trust us to bring our kids to your programme after school or heaven forbid on Sunday?

SRI has no place in a school.  Don’t get us wrong.  We’re not sad, we’re mad.  We’re mad AT you.

Shame on you.  If you have kids, then I think it isn’t hard to imagine why we’d expect them to be given a quality education and not handed over to you to have instruction in something that most people feel would be impolite talk about with a total stranger.  If you want to make us happy, then offer your programs during a time when we don’t have to opt out, in order to avoid you.

You don’t think that is fair do you, because you don’t really want a voluntary system, where people:

A:  Know what they are getting

B:  Are genuinely signing up because they are interested.

What you want is for parents to put their kids into SRI because they are told, by the school, that its “suggested”.

You should be ashamed.

St. Scott’s Epistle to the Scarlet A-Holes


I hesitate to post this here, as some say I should stick narrowly to the mechanics of our successful campaign, and that addressing “Scarlet A-holes” invites controversy, which some feel “is off putting” to the fragile ears among the silent majority.  There are some things however that must be said.

If you have no interest in the petty politics that attaches to the public expression of “atheism” then, nothing to see here move along.  However, if you are among those fulminating at FIRIS, and are part of the rump faction who are “upset”, specifically about the suggestions I have made, about the need for a “Victorian Model” on Chaplains in Schools, then read on.

I want to address the people who’ve been offended at my quip that they are “Scarlet A-Holes”.  You will not be getting any apology from me.  If you frequent the FIRIS facebook page because you see FIRIS as aiding and abetting your cause of ridding the world of superstition in general, and religion specifically, and who have bought into the idea that its a good look to wear a Scarlet A, then I’m speaking to you.

Many of you are in QLD or SA, and you’ve come here, at least in part because you like what FIRIS has been doing.  You may not know me, but you’ve “liked FIRIS” and in large measure, this means that you like me too.

However, like Charlie Brown, and his abuser, Lucy, you feel like I’ve snatched away the football.  There is a clamor, lately, of discord against me specifically, and there have been even direct demands, directed at other parents who work on FIRIS, in the form of ultimatums, to “deal with me”, almost as if you have some role in running FIRIS.  It has been suggested that if I am allowed to continue to influence FIRIS that there will be trouble in paradise!

Here is an example:


First, a note of thanks to Tracey, who I have never met, but who had the good sense to point out the absurdity of what was being said there.  Also, an observation that the reason you are visiting the FIRIS page, commenting on things, is that what we’re doing, attracts you.  However, you reckon, there is a “single person” who has now caused FIRIS to work “against your interests”!  This isn’t one isolated comment, it can be heard in a lot of places where people gather in the name of “atheism”.  This guy Scott is bad news.  Trouble on a stick.

Since both Atheists and the Australian Christian’s political candidates agree on as a self evident truth.  I couldn’t be happier.  I’m even happier to be accused of being both religious and non religious at the same time, but both extremes of the religious and non religious spectrum.

But on with the substance of the claim being leveled at FIRIS, and me, more specifically, of having an “anti-secular” agenda.  This is worth doing not because of personal pettiness, or any need to settle this, but because of the importance of the substance of the claim.

Let’s be clear that secularism, as I define it, is a political idea.

Also, as a point of order, FIRIS, has “aims”, but it has no “members”, it is a campaign, and to be clear, “liking” on facebook does not mean you are a member, it might mean you support our aims, but if you think your small thumbs up, gives you a vote, you are wrong.  Campaigns are not democratic, they are run by leaders and people who want and understand how to get to some stated end.  Because of this, the success or failure of FIRIS can be measured.  Not by likes on FB, not by whether we please groups incorporated to further the causes of humanism, atheism, other ideologies, but by whether or not there is or is not SRI in our state schools in Victoria.  That is what FIRIS was set up to do, and the that it does.

FIRIS can’t claim “victory” but it can claim that the situation in Victoria is better than it was.  There has been at least a 30% decline in SRI, and if you’re following us, you know that there is more on the way.  We aren’t out of the woods though, because when you succeed at something, the person whose interests are being impacted sometimes decides to push back.  A campaign is a kind of a battle, for territory (or office) that can be won, or lost.  It was necessary to create FIRIS, because no one was doing anything about what was going on in our schools.  Now there is.

But lets go back to this claim about FIRIS and me, being “anti-secular”.

There is a confusion here, between “atheism” and “secularism”, which is unfortunate.  FIRIS is interested in “politics” (even more narrowly, a policy), and in my experience, atheists (and I’d extend that to include the groups in Australia who call themselves Humanists), don’t do politics (at least not effectively).

What these groups do is anti-theist polemics.  While I am not un-intrested in these, I consider them personal matters, on par with a hobby or a personal passion.  I view a person’s religion, or lack of religion as firstly, their business, and in general I am careful about how and when I discuss these things, much in the same way that am careful about when I am naked, religion is something which attaches itself to both social norms, which I respect, but also to constitutional protections.

If you wish to ignore history, culture, and the constitution, and focus instead on the “truth claims” made by religion, be my guest, but know that you and I live under laws, thank God, and you can not wish these away because you have decided to define religion as “a hypothesis” and “a truth claim”.  I’m sympathetic that Dawkins felt pushed to the breaking point by the Ken Hams (made in Australia), but you don’t have to take down “religion” to take back science class from him, and you definitely should not go around claiming that if human beings were “reasonable” that things would be fine.  Put away your Hitchens and pick up your Haidt.

In setting up a strategy for FIRIS, I chose to work with people whom I think of as religious moderates.  An example of the kind of people I mean are the ones who appear in the film I produced “Mission Field:  Education Not Expected“, and in general, it has been my experience that a viable secular campaign (which I consider FIRIS to be) is composed of “religious moderates” and of course non-believers.  I’d add too that I have had nothing but disappointment from groups who are organised around “non religion”, so I’m not “prejudiced” but I haven’t got much good to say from the experiences I’ve had.  There is a point at which not learning from experience is stupid, and one must derive theories about cause and effect.  My theory is that atheist polemics have a negative influence on the way atheists think and act.  But that’s just a theory.

While I don’t wish to see an end to anti-theist polemics, I feel that, in the matter of politics, these polemics are like pissing in your pants.  If you don’t like religion, it feels great when you are doing it, but then, after awhile, the chill sets in.  In my experience, atheists (regardless of what you call yourselves) by making polemic into your policy, your “point”, as it were, you are making it impossible for people who are religious, to not just only work with you, but you make it impossible for them to stand being in the same room with you.

My version of secularism, doesn’t focus on metaphysics, it concentrates on politics. This is why religion bashing leaves me bored, since the criticisms haven’t changed much in half a century, but you’d be blind to not see that politics in Australia has, despite a putative decline in religion, taken on a decidedly religious cast.  Ask any politician if the religious right in this country doesn’t has clout and see what you find.

Even though FIRIS is skewed much higher to women (ie, the demographics of FIRIS are different from the demographics of atheism, which skews male), you don’t have to look far to find typical “atheists running off mothers” bullshit.  I can not keep track of the gleeful atheistic know nothings, whom mothers have taken me aside to tell me how distasteful they are:


I am not however, insensitive to the complaints of people who don’t like be called “Scarlet A-Holes”, I get this.  You have picked up a flag, you have your heroes, you have your causes, and you don’t like it when they are insulted.  If you are bothered by this, imagine how Jew, Muslims, or Christians, or any of the people whom you identify yourself in opposition to, feel?  All I can say is that if you are a “public atheist”, the very least you can do is be gracious when you feel you are insulted.  At the very least, show, via your example, how you expect others to handle being insulted.

However, please know this, I’m not trying to hurt you.  I’m trying to help you, in so much as you have political interests, the only reason I’ve ever said anything “un-kind” is because I genuinely disagree that you are being effective.  You might say, “but you are being mean”, perhaps I am, but that doesn’t change the substance of what I’m saying, it only means you don’t like the way I’m saying it.

Let’s look however at this claim of being “anti-secular”.  I think the problem here stems from a false hope held by atheists, that flows from their deeply held ideal, that they wish to live in a world in which people did not look to the divine for guidance or consolation.  

I have bad news for you:  secularism will not help you get there. Secularism neither convinces people of God’s non-existence nor the contrary. Rather, it tries to build a firewall against those who wish to transpose their conception of God’s will into a government’s policy (in FIRIS case that policy is 2.2.11 of the 2006 Victorian Education Act, just so were’re clear).

While the agenda of secularism may share many goals upon which atheism may strongly agree, the conflation of these two things may be good for atheism, but it is not good for secularism.  It is especially disastrous because secularism is far too important to be draped over your wolfishness, like a fleece, so that you can oppress others.    

So this charge of being “anti-secular” is important to air, because, I think what is being said is I am not being supportive of an “atheist” agenda.

FIRIS emphatically has a “secular” agenda, one that is clearly spelled out in its aims, but one that strongly agrees with the intellectual framework set out by Maddox and Sherlock.  I’m not sure if Atheists are paying attention, but the reason that FIRIS is successful is that our key intellectual support comes from theologians.  This may come as a shock, but its a fact.  The other fact is that most families are apathetic about their own religious beliefs but they generally respect and feel deferential toward other people’s religion.

It is therefore mistaken of atheists to confuse polemic (which are pleasing to you) with policy, because most people do not enjoy polemic!

Let me close, with a brief restatement of my feelings about the court “victory” Ron Williams had over the “funding” of chaplains, and restate my personal views about what would be a secular response to the problems that the NSCP and the Federal funding of chaplains has brought us, because I sense that the substance of the dispute between myself and “atheists” lies here, these are my personal views, which touch on FIRIS because the main SRI provider in Victoria, ACCESS Ministries is funded by this program.

First, it is my view that the “victory” in Williams is, Pyrrhic.  It was strategically unwise, to purse Chaplains via the constitution, because the threat of litigation was stronger than using litigation.  Second, because victory sought by atheists really had nothing to do with the power of the federal government, it was to do with church state separation.  It was sold on these grounds, and promulgated purely by “anti religious groups”.  I agree with Maddox and others. Who have discussed why the court ruling against Williams on 116 was a problem.  Maddox:

In actual fact, his last visit to the High Court had the same side-effect as every other section 116 case has had: the provision’s potential now looks narrower, its use apparently slighter — and Australians’ religious freedoms therefore flimsier — than before.

The question however, now that these events have taken place, and Williams has managed to hand conservatives some brick bats to hurl at, “an out-of-touch alliance of Greens, gays and atheists”, by pursing a legalistic, and even absurd, Federalist line of attack that at best has almost everyone lining up to support the very concept of Chaplains!  The “tone deafness” of what has happened is staggering, watch poor Ron fend off even the people who support him in theory:

Add to this the fact that at best he has not dented the “idea” of what he’s opposing, Chaplains are still “motherhood” in OZ, and we have to ask ourselves, “what next”.

Atheists seem to think that winning is winning, and now, what is going to happen is that Chaplains will go away.

I disagree, for reasons that people don’t seem to like hearing, and which I won’t go into here, but they have to do with the fact that there is in fact no mechanism by which the wishes of the majority can be thwarted on this question.  This fact is not one you can change by calling for me to be silenced.  The constitution is a valid tool to protect the rights of “a minority”, which is how it has been used in America, but if you haven’t noticed, the wheels are coming off that bus, and in OZ, its not clear that the bus ever had wheels.  Heck if you read the DOGS decision, the plaintiffs who lost, actually argued their case based on the American Constitution.  Get a map folks and don’t get emotional about laws you don’t understand.

Australians, especially Australian Atheists, are going to have to accept this.  They are going to have to grow up, and they are going to have to get smart, and they are going to have to stop acting like “a minority” because secularism here means figuring out “majority politics”.  Most importantly learning to advocate for “a secular Australia” in ways that resonate with “Australian-ness”.  As strange as it is for me to give it, here is my advice:

1.  Recognise that you have some pretty fantastic religious people in Australia with whom an exciting secular coalition could be made.  I know this because they have helped me make FIRIS successful and they are lovely world class minds.  Love these people.  Listen to these people.  Specifically, examples of these people would be, Marion Maddox, Peter Sherlock, Bob Faser, Waleed Aly, Bob McGuire, and Barney Zwartz, Michael Kirby, to name a few who have helped FIRIS, but are devout or at least not the least bit “anti-religious”.  Go ask them, “what should we Atheists do to be politically effective”?  Ranting at me, won’t be one of their suggestions.

2.  Recognise that you are a country, for God’s sake!  You are lucky as hell.  To quote Jesus, “everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required” (Luke 12:48).   If quoting Jesus makes you tune out, then we could paraphrase Spider-Man’s words to reflect another biblical truth: “With great privilege comes great responsibility.”  So I say, take your own history much more seriously than you seem to, learn why you have a secular democracy and learn to talk about it intelligently.   Learn the stories of your heroes, if they are dead, all the better, because they can be improved.  If they are bronze, even better, they will not rust.  Know that no one in American or the UK, knows anything about your history, and don’t confuse theirs with yours, you’re Australians … own it.  Whatever you do, don’t let your wonderful history be re-written by political factions who want to fuse religion and politics, or take away things like reproductive choice, or oppress gay people, by using the same tactics that the religious right uses in the USA.  A few great examples of how this looks are Nick Cater’s creation myth narrative, and Chrys Stevenson’s recent talk on Bentham.  It is vital that people don’t believe things about themselves that aren’t true!

3.   Get serious about Australian Secularism.  All the work is a head of you, especially where it concerns the expansion of religious minorities in Australia.  You have a lot of work to do in this area, because, everyone knows that there is an ugliness here which can and does explode.  Secularism can’t solve this, but as far as I can tell, its one of the few mechanisms that can help.  This isn’t paradise, but as Nick Cater says, “you’ve yet to have your first witch burning”.  Race riots and race beatings, and race rants however … that is another story.  Atheists have got to learn to accept that secularism grows out of a protestant movement in England … you inherited it, but you also made it via your “religion” not via your non-religion.  Just as it kept things fairly good here for Catholics, so too will it for Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists, etc … but not if you remake it, or convert it into atheism.  Australia’s model of church state separation is legally weak, but socially strong.  You must, take this seriously.  The scale of this task, given the intellectual commitments of Atheists to drone on about “the divine” is not good, and the need for intellectuals who can speak to the political, social and legal reality of this nation, on this issue, is huge.  My only advice is to see #1 above.  There is no greater example of this than in Education, but it is right across social services.  I have to admit, the prospect of an “Australian Secularism” gets me down, simply because there just seems to be such a thin intellectual interest in it.  See #2 above.

4.  Forget Atheism.  Yes, that is right, unplug from Atheism, stop paying Richard Dawkins to fly here and debate George Pell, stop holding conventions that bring people from other countries here to fawn on them.  Australians have won the lottery and are one of the few places on earth where Atheism is the norm, no one cares if you are an atheist, but by listening to Americans and British intellectuals, and by acting like a persecuted minority, you just play into the hands of the religious right, who are a tiny minority, but punch way above their weight, because they do politics well and you don’t.  Richard Dawkins is a fine polemicist, but a lousy tactician.  His “foundation” is a serial screw up.  You are simply providing him with “an audience”.   Forget Atheism because it doesn’t matter here, and its lousy politics.  Secularism is about politics.  Set goals and work on those goals, if you are an Atheist, honor yourself by not talking about what you don’t believe learn to talk about what you do believe.  If you really want to help “atheism” model it in an authentic Aussie way, by helping Americans and the British see how you do it here.  Make your own rules and stand up for your way, like Aussies did with gun control, Americans should envy you.

If you look in the mirror, and see a Scarlet A-Hole looking back at you, then you are dressed the way an American and Brit have clothed you and you’re not thinking about what makes you special.  Remember, the only ideology that you can meaningfully renounce is your own.

Good luck … I’ve enjoyed my time here in Australia.  I wish I could say that I’ve enjoyed working with Australian Atheists.



Michael Bird shows us the hand!


FIRIS recently noticed and responded to Barney Zwartz’s interesting essay suggesting that there was cause for optimism that Secular and Religious Progressives can find common cause and should work together.  We can’t agree more.  We also noted a pessimistic response from a Ridley Theologian named Michael Bird.  We asked Michael if he’d like to work with FIRIS, along side our other religious allies, to reform the bad teaching practices and unacceptable discrimination among children caused by SRI.


Bird’s response was to pretty much flip us the bird.  His response is below, and our responses are in line in green.

Bird says that he, “accept(s) the validity of an opt in rather than opt out policy, your campaign on that score is quite reasonable. No objections from me.


This is response should be noted is his “high water mark”, he has not however, anywhere done anything to secure said change, which, it must be said, was beaten out of both the SRI providers and DEECD under threat of litigation.  No one from any official church body took a proactive interest in saying “this was reasonable”, we had to pound on them to get the concession.

The law, which was negotiated by them, was designed exactly backwards as an “opt out” system, which presented “SRI” as, “unless we hear from you we’ll assume your child is participating”

It is also not really fair to think of this program as “opt in”, because SRI providers expect to have their program “time tabled” and parents are expected to say “yes or no” – the program is hardly one, like music tuition where you have to seek out the instructor and pay for each lesson.  Michael’s lack of “objection” to a system that does not require us as parents to specifically excuse our child from as if we are conscientious objectors is duly noted.  I am tempted to address him as Lord Bird, as my Liege, and thank him for his kind dispensation on this point, but seriously, thanks for nothing.

From this generous recognition of what no one should have had to argue for in the first place, Bird moves to what he calls “more contentious matters”:

1. Yes, there is access to religious instruction in other spheres. But that is hardly a reason to end SRI. Its like saying that kids can get music and physical exercise at home, so there’s no need to have music lessons or PE in school.

This reply completely ignores the nature of “Special Religious Instruction” and the fact that things like PE and music are not “religious” in nature.  For someone of Bird’s education to make this analogy, there has to be a desire to present arguments that he knows are fallacious.  The whole point here is that unlike music or PE, religions have special rights and exist within a cultural structure, that in the case of Christianity at least has had part of the week historically reserved for worship, and is the province of special institutions that have particular relations and rights to the government of his country.  For Bird to equate instruction in music to PE is simply a demonstration of bad faith on his part. 

2. The reason why SRI continues is not because the churches successfully lobby/manipulate the government to continue it. The real reason is that parents to continue to want to make use of it. Until the need evaporates the supply will always be there.

Bird here denies the facts.  He’s not got any data to back this up, and denying the fact that Parent Victoria and the Australian Education Union both have said “get this out of our schools”, he’s also joking if he doesn’t think that these groups act covertly by applying pressure on the political apparatus.  The government has moved several times, in the 1970’s and in 2006 to formally get rid of SRI (as structured) and replace it with something better, each time the religious lobby closes ranks and prevents change.  For the most part these 90K people have been lied to by SRI providers, given false information by the DEECD and more or less told “we expect you to do this” by their school … these conditions are where the 90K number if from.  Not that Bird’s going to help, but check back in a year and lets see what parents do with the new, more honest forms that the DEECD has agreed to send out.

3. The SRI program is scrutinized and proselytism is strictly forbidden, end of story. Second guess motives if you wish, but the policies are the policies.

This is a bald faced lie, and merely a talking point used by ACCESS Ministries.  The lie is contradicted by the lessons themselves and by expert reviews.  Bird simply refuses to acknowledge the facts. 

Bird goes on to list his objections to FIRIS, by means of a list of counter-points:

1. FIRIS seems committed to the ghettoising of religion by removing religious instruction from public sphere.

This is a culture war trope, it bears no resemblance to our aims, which provide allowance for religious groups to use schools outside of the time when students are required to be there, calls for teaching “about” religions and calls for a fair, comparative and objective syllabus so that children are not ignorant of “religions”.  The term “public sphere” is aburd, and it only reflects Bird’s incapacity to deal with facts and evidence.  Use of words like ghettoising are deliberately loaded, but do reflect the long history of Judeo-Christian tradition.  

Here is an article that appeared in the SMH just today:

Two years ago, Blue Mountains couple Ross and Kathryn Jarrett were woken in the middle of night by their six-year-son, Lucius, who was sitting bolt upright in bed, weeping inconsolably. “When I went in, he was saying ‘I am a sinner, daddy, I am a sinner’,” says Ross. “He was also clutching to his chest a colouring-in book that he had been given by his scripture teacher.”
The book had a black cover, which Lucius said “is the colour of my heart, because I am a sinner”. The next page was red, which, he said, “is me when I sin.” The following pages were all different colours – green, which was meant to represent Lucius when he talked to God and asked for forgiveness; white (“for when I get closer to God”), and on the back cover, orange, which was intended to somehow signify, as the boy put it, “that I can never be as good as God”.
Ross was horrified. “I tried to explain to Lucius that nothing he did could make his heart black, but he kept objecting, saying ‘But I am a sinner dad! When I was four I lied to you!’ I realised that he was talking about this day when I caught him telling a fib in daycare two years before.”
The next day, Kathryn called the school and demanded to know the name of the scripture teacher, but was told that would not be possible. “They didn’t know who had actually taken the class that day, because they were all volunteers from the local church. And so we were like: who are these people? It was pretty frightening.”

Michael Bird, you want to know why people are mad?  Well, you just keep right on denying the validity of this family’s reasons for objecting to your church doing this to their kids, and I think you will find very little sympathy among the general public for your lack of compassion.   

2. FIRIS uses quotes from celebrity figures and academics on its website that are ad hominem and caricature people of faith as dogmatic, discriminary, and prejudicial. Who would talk that way about any other minority group and their faith. You can’t claim to be tolerant and inclusive and have that kind of rhetoric on your website.

We’re not sure what he means here, but it seems as though he’s saying that Marion Maddox and Father Bob, Kathy Walker and Cathy Byrne and David Zyngier are in Bird’s mind out to get “people of faith”.  Go figure.  I will leave it to these people to defend their own views, but it is important to point out that FIRIS has a substantial list of allies, inside the church, who are making the same arguments.  Bird ignores this.  He would have us believe that the Dean of Divinity, who argues against SRI, along with Maddox, in ways that are completely consistent with us, are “intolerant”.   I’d be happy to correct any examples of “intolerant rhetoric”, but Bird doesn’t give any.   
3. FIRIS seems to operate with a historically anachrontic view of Australia’s/Victoria’s secular origins. It was NEVER the absence of religion or the compartmentalisation of religion. It was that no single religion was allowed to dominate (though in practice Anglicans did and were privileged esp. over Catholics). For case in point, the Melbourne College of Divinity was created by an act of the Victoria parliament in 1913 I think. Trying to read post-60s secularism into pre-WWI Australia is like saying that the Wright brothers invented the jet plane.

Here Bird is making historical claims that are false.  FIRIS has also done extensive research on this, and rather than go into these arguments about history, I must point to the scholarship by Byrne, Maddox and the recentHastie Affair” which deal with Bird’s re-writing of history.  

4. Keep in mind that I’m a historian and I’ve seen all of this sort of thing before. When you have someone saying that these religious groups don’t share our values and therefore shouldn’t be be allowed to do their thing in public and when you feel emboldened to accuse them of all sorts of heinous things like dogmatism and discrimination, then you doing what sociologists call “deviant labelling” as a means to promoting prejudice against a group and to justify hostilities against them. Read the history of the Jews in Alexandria, Christians in Iraq from the 1930s until now, Sikhs in India in the 1980s, the plight of the Shiites in Pakistan, and the like. In which case, you’ve got an up hill battle to show that you’re not doing what majority cultures often do to minorities, demonize them as a way of justifying punitive action against them. I’m not accusing you of wanting or promoting violence, don’t misunderstand me, but the posturing and rhetoric that you are using does not suggest polite conversation, but a militant campaign to confront something you regard as an enemy of the state.

Bird may claim to be a “historian” and therefore has authority, but he’s definitely not given any examples, nor has he addressed a single point, or expert who contradicts he pre-scripted tropes (public sphere, militant secularism, etc … ) 

I’d like to admit however, that his claim of “deviant labelling” has merit.  Much of this is not FIRIS’s choice and nothing FIRIS has ever done or said has gone beyond the evidence, or has been deliberately presented as fact when its not.

Bird was asked in what way this speech, which was delivered by a graduate of his school, within the walls of his own building, is remotely acceptable?  I think, like everyone else, he’s pretending that this was not said so boldly, and recorded for the world to see, as there is no defense possible.  ACCESS simply asserted that the speech was taken out of context.  This is a lie.  The context is unmistakable, and the proposals and strategic intent of “ministry in schools” isn’t something that they can deny.  Parents have every right to be upset by this, and arguing that us pointing this out is a form of “deviant labelling” denies that what ACCESS says it intends to do is in fact “deviant”.  

FIRIS did not however set out to demonize ACCESS Ministry, it merely ran into a wall when it tried to get honest, reasonable answers to honest reasonable concerns.  Failing this, it seems perfectly reasonable to invite a camera crew from A Current Affair to attempt to get answers.  They didn’t do much better of course because there really are no answers that aren’t distortions or  outright lies.  

Our YouTube page, and our comments are full of live testimony from real parents and what these people have to say is sincere.  Bird ignores these people.  Furthermore, ACCESS itself, as well as Bird, pay this game.  Here is how it looks when ACCESS explains what is going on it is the fault of the media, the people in the churches who object are called traitors.


Bird concludes his one finger salute by accusing FIRIS, with no evidence whatsoever of hatred.  It doesn’t matter if our arguments are presented by prominent Anglicans like Ron Noone, a Catholic, by a Sikh, like Richi Madan, a Hindu, a Jew, or by a mother with a theology degree from a prominent school in Ireland (most of these people are displayed on our webpage), Bird writes them all off as “people with intense loathing”.  On the other hand, when we ask him to explain how we are supposed to respond to a group that lies, openly claim to want to “disciple” our children, he ignores all this, and accuses us of harboring “hatred”.  

Michael Bird, your assessment, your conduct and your views are not surprising, you could be part of the solution, but instead you are more interested in pretending to be assaulted.  You not only show no empathy for the things parents are saying on our website, you accuse them of having hatred toward “faith”.  You insult our intelligence and our sincerity and you wonder why people have nothing but contempt for you.   

So that’s my prima facis take on FIRIS. Some valid concerns, but let down by bad definitions, poor history, and (unconsciously) harboring either hatred or at least intense loathing peole of faith (hence the rhetoric on the webpage!).

But in the words of the great American philosopher – Forrest Gump – that’s all I have to say about that!

Forest Gump also said is that “stupid is as stupid does”, and in this case we can hear what you are saying because we are watching what you are doing.

Ormond Anglican: You are not welcome here!

 If we had to pick one example to showcase why “Special Religious Instruction” is a beat up on our schools, it would be the case of Ormond Primary.


Last night, travelers on North Rd. were treated to a sign which can only be described as a red flag to FIRIS.

We’ve written about this before, and its been in the Herald Sun, and last night, Ormond Anglican Church, which is a block from Ormond Primary, had the temerity to announce that parents “want” SRI.

Let’s consider what has happened at Ormond Primary:

No one on the staff or school council asked them to do this.  The principal didn’t want it, at least some of the parents had chosen the school BECAUSE it didn’t have SRI, but Ormond Anglican didn’t care about all that.  What they care about is their “mission” and in this case, because the Department of Education told the principal at Ormond Primary that he had no choice, that school council had no choice, Ormond Anglican now walks the one block from their newly remodeled church to a state primary school and instructs children from the ACCESS Ministry curriculum books.  Divisive, unwelcome, intrusive, are words that accurately describe this mob.

Parents were then asked to opt out of this instruction if they didn’t want it, and they were given highly massaged explanations of the content of the curriculum.  The beat up came because parents who opposed this were given no uncertain terms that if they opposed Ormond Primary, that it would cause an unwelcome conflict at the school.   The parents who were most upset by this had a choice to make, fight Ormond Anglican, or live with SRI.  Out of deference to “the rules” parents, who are busy with earning a living, unlike the staff at Ormond Anglican who are paid to intrude like this:  backed down.

However, things are changing, and this sign perhaps is really a sign of desperation.  The old dishonest forms have now been replaced with information that makes it clear to parents what SRI is, and importantly, that if you can get your head around this, that its not endorsed by the Department of Education.

No, go back and read that again:  Our primary schools were obligated to allow groups like Ormond Anglican Church to take over classrooms, even though any family who wants can go one block to Ormond Anglican, which has its own stunningly attractive classroom spaces. Does anyone think this is needed or fair?  Are parents really “choosing” SRI?  No, its put in their way, and parents are then asked if they want to “avoid it”.  Parents also find it hard to understand how anything “in the school” is not in fact “from the school”, or if we weren’t dealing with insanity, completely approved by and supported by the school.  In this case, none of this is true.  Ormond Anglican simply is allowed to expand their reach and use the schools – the professionals at the school (ie the teachers) are told to STFU, so Rev Kev can have a go.  It is wrong.

In this example, Ormond Anglican came uninvited, using their capacity to threaten the staff at the school, and they lie to parents (via forms that distort the information about what they are doing in the schools).  Ormond Anglican, in what has to be one of the more brazen attempts to call for our upbraiding, puts up a sign to claim that parents “want it”.

Nothing could in fact be further from the truth.  No example gives a more glaring or objective proof that this policy is a beat up that schools and families must endure.  In this example you have the added spectacle of the unashamed glee in proclaiming things that are simply not true.

Yeah, verily I say right here:  As parents we will be voting with our feet.  What happened in Kew, will happen to you.

Ormond Anglican, you have gone too far, the patience of parents is exhausted and you’ve asked us to make an example of you.

“you have sown the wind, and you shall reap the whirlwind” … now where have I read that, before?

I do know that it isn’t something kids learn from doing secret word finds telling them that Jesus can be their friend.


Evangelising vs. Proselytising?


Recently we’ve been the subject of a disinformation campaign by Geoff Westlake, who claims that if schools let him do programs designed to bring children “good news, in good ways” that this is “ethical” and that he should be allowed to do it.  According to him there are two concepts (

Evangelising: ethical sharing of good news

Proselytising: unethical coercion to join the group


Geoff accuses FIRIS of applying the meaning of Proselytising, which is wrong, to Evangelising, which is “ethical” (i.e. good)

FIRIS recently asked Marion Maddox if Geoff was right, and we were being unfair, here is what she replied:

I have a PhD in theology and am a nationally recognised expert in religious studies, and have never heard of any technical distinction between evangelising and proselytising (except that the latter has a more pejorative connotation: we evangelise, they proselytise).

Both have Greek roots: evangelism comes from eu (= good) + angelion (=message), so it is what you do when you are sharing the ‘good news’. Naturally, you expect that people’s response to the ‘good news’ will be the same as your own response was to the same news, ie, conversion. Proselytising is from pros (= towards) and eleusis (coming)

I also looked up the word in various dictionaries.  None place the term “coerce” in the meaning of “proselytising”, and none distinguish between a form that is “ethical” or not.  Both words mean to attempt to bring a person into a religious belief, both imply an intent and a desire to “induce” or “bring in” … both terms are appropriate when describing the agenda of Geoff Westlake, of OAC Ministries and of ACCESS Ministries, and in our objective view of “Religion in Life” the curriculum used by ACCESS.

As much as Geoff Westlake wishes to object, his claims to scholarship, knowledge or even qualification are deeply suspect.

This doesn’t make him a bad person, it just calls him out as someone who really shouldn’t be put in charge of something as important as “education”.