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Are you Experienced?

Are you Experienced?

How SRE’s apologists are against education about religions:

John Dickson and Michael Jensen swear on a stack of bibles that they believe SRE does not, and should not exist as a form of missionary work, wherein Christian Evangelists take the bible into schools and recruit children to follow their religion.

It is absurd of them to assert this, because it is abundantly clear that this is why religious groups, and especially evangelical ones, burn to prevent FIRIS from accomplishing what they call our “end game”.  Namely, to terminate the practice of granting access to “religious groups” to operate in our state schools (because they should not be using our schools as “mission fields” – schools are places of learning, not places of worship and not street corners to hurl threats of damnation at passers by.  We should expect what is taught in schools to submit to some standards).

SRE does not have any metrics like this, and its most ardent supporters don’t want it to – because they aren’t in schools to educate, they are there because they want to recruit.

Michael Jensen, especially is incandescent with rage because he sees FIRIS as “anti-religious”. Keep in mind that Michael Jensen is not some internet hack, he’s a respected Ph.D., scion of Sydney Anglican Royalty – and he’s constantly slandering FIRIS as “anti-religion” – he knows it isn’t true, but it fits his narrative of persecution.

John Dickson, however has a more nuanced way to slime FIRIS.  His claim is that we don’t want people to “believe religion”!

I want to drill down on Dickson’s claims and show how this agenda is not educational at all: that his goals, while coated in elaborate and often original euphemism, have only one meaning. John wants dedicated and protected space to have people “experience his religion” inside the schools. To be clear, this is what John should be doing – he is after all a priest – he’s sworn to go out and bring people into his faith. It is just much easier if he’s given the schools as a venue to do this. He’s not content to live in a society where people are free to come to him; he wants a world where the Minister for Education lets him come into the schools, and then indicate if you want “opt out” of the time slot he’s been assigned.



Here is one of FIRIS’s intellectually adept voices, Andrew Glover, stepping in to push back:


John’s response is to claim that few people accuse FIRIS of wanting to get rid of religion (despite that Michael Jensen just said that is what we are about), John wants to defend the idea that FIRIS is against “believed-religion” – he says we “despise believed-religion”.

So you have Michael Jensen claiming we “hate religion” (untrue) and Dickson claiming that we despise something he called “believed-religion”.

This is breathtaking dishonesty (on both counts), given that high profile religious leaders routinely make FIRIS’s case. What John Dickson wants to do is act in the role of “confessor” and define a category of “religion” that he arbitrates, so he can accuse FIRIS of being against it!

John then makes another move. He claims, in effect, that treating religion as something which can be “studied” (ie as a school subject that is non confessional in nature), is a form of attacking religion (despising it), as it is tantamount to killing the living thing!

To carry this analogy further, into the educational realm, if we can have “botany”, we must despise living plants. Because to systematise and classify, and catalog in drawers – the plants turns them into “museum pieces” instead of living things.




Beneath this claim is a disdain and contempt for learning that should strike horror into anyone who values education and knowledge, as a source of human understanding and advancement. John’s proposition is that learning in a systematised, objective, mutually understandable and repeatable, content-driven fashion, is hostile to something he’s in favour of: something that in his formulation can be defined as something that “ignites a worldview”.

What does it mean to “ignite a worldview”? I put to you that this is dressed up way to say “saved” or “converted” .

Andrew Glover’s response was exemplary:


One of the key reasons why SRE deserves to be kicked out of the classroom is that NO ONE will tell you if you’ve learned the material or not, because the only metric that they care about is one that can’t be measured by mankind:  salvation. The goal of SRE instructors (evangelical ones at least) is “salvation from eternal punishment for not believing“.

This is what John’s proposing: to sort those who believe from those who don’t.

John Dickson wants us to avoid that truth, by dancing around with lots of euphemisms; watch him respond to Glover’s intellectual checkmate, by reaching for “heritage and culture” – his “go-to” cover story.  What he seems to miss is that our “culture” deliberately has moved beyond “our heritage”: why does SRE fullfill John’s demands – why not demand that we take all children to mass on Sunday, as was done in yesteryear?  Why does John not demand that girls be made to experience the domestic arts to experience “their heritage”? Because that would make John Dickson look like a fool. But as long as he keeps this argument vague enough, it’s a con he can put over on us, largely because of a reserve of goodwill and deference that most decent people afford piety.


It isn’t that John is wrong about what he’s saying here. It’s OK for him see religion as something that you do, not something that you “learn about” or “study”, just as it’s OK to be someone who loves plants so much that you can’t stand to see them studied in a systematic way. But this kind of passion is not a qualification for teaching in a school, and in fact it is fair to say that it is hostile to a classical understanding of education.

We should not set up schools built on the liberal arts and on secular foundations and then have priests come in and “do religion” in them, any more than we should have botany instruction that is only given though the lens of “aboriginal knowledge of plants”. Such an education would not be a serious education, just as SRE is not a serious education: it’s there to give evangelists something to do, some people to convert.

SRE is really about the need for the instructors to appeal to students with their passion – more so that something that is there for the students to be educated in any way that we can speak of in a sense of being informed or educated.

John Dickson has no interest in people who are educated about Christianity – he is only interested in having people become Christians, and from his comments it is clear that all his claims about the importance of understanding the bible as means to know about art, literature and culture are hollow.

John compares religion to sport or dance – or music, but the vast majority of us watch and passively consume these things, and in order to understand a footy game, you need to know who the teams are, and the rule; people who cannot move their legs can enjoy footy.  There is no need at all for me to pole vault to watch the Olympics, and my enjoyment of the sport is not diminished by knowing that the games have ancient origins.

Johns arguments are completely self-serving and invasive and anti-educational. Religion, in John’s formulation, is more like sexual intercorse than music, because he feels that it can’t be really appreciated without doing it. It has to be personally felt to qualify as being something you can claim to “know” in the biblical sense (pun intended).

John is really claiming that unless he is allowed to get naked with you, that you really haven’t had the experience he thinks you need.  John Dickson wants to go into the schools and have you “do religion” … not just learn about it.  He wants to know “are you experienced” …

He takes it even further, and argues that our advocacy that all children should learn “about religions” in an educationally valid way, is to despise religion.

John’s intentions are euphemistically worded, but it means the same thing: “Let me have a go”.









Read the report showing that A Current Affair did not vilify religion

Download (PDF, 467KB)

Persecution Complex – The Passion of Mark Powell


The controversy over “Gayby Baby” is part of a paranoid persecution complex led by a few anti gay clergy.

It is abundantly clear that Reverend Powell is fighting a culture war, because in his mind, “acceptance” (of homosexuality) leads to persecution (of him)”.
Reverend Powell argues that he believes his right to “oppose homosexuality” is threatened.

“Opposition” for Reverend Powell, is not a private act of non participation, or personally being allowed to refrain from same sex relations, it means at some level, that he wants to see policies in place that have the effect of suppressing or limiting the kinds of things that other people are allowed to do. In this case specifically, it means that he doesn’t want the principal at Burwood High to show “Gayby Baby”, and he doesn’t want “Wear Purple Day”.

What Reverend Powell doesn’t seem to fully understand that after he exercises his freedom to oppose something, that other people can exercise their freedoms to point out that his views are absurd and uncharitable, and ridicule him for his views. Not listening to him, and laughing at him, is not a form of “persecution”. Mocking what he says is not limiting his freedoms.

What’s more, he doesn’t seem to understand that by refusing to make his religious opinions into laws, his religious freedom, is not being imposed upon.
Have a look at some of the back and forth between this religious leader, who, remember, is not merely speaking in his capacity as private citizen, but one who holds several positions of public trust. First, he’s the leader of a congregation, a position that society vests some intrinsic respect for, and second, he chairs the “school scripture board” for “Generate Ministries”. In his post, he is falsely claiming that walking under a “rainbow flag” imposes on his “religious freedom”. Is this at all true? No.


So here we have the pastor of a congregation urging his congregation to take political action against the local school over their support of rainbow families.
The person in the exchange below, Josh Lum Mow, works as a “youth pastor” at his church, just in case anyone be confused as to the extent of the outrage among people not affiliated with Mark Powell’s church. They then discuss how to find parents to front this issue for them! No mention of the heaps and heaps of crying families who have supposedly put him up to this!

Interestingly Josh Lum Mow, seems to see how the film itself has educational value – but his boss Revend Powell has him focus on the coercion and peer pressure which follows from the event like nature of “celebrating” equality.

josh mow

Reverend Powell, then shifts to talk about how the bible speaks to his act of resistance against “wearing purple”!

Trigger Warning: Short Bible Lesson discussing being tossed into fire, and other old testament themes

Unpacking the story of Daniel 3, helps us understand how Reverend Powell is thinking about what is going on.

In this story from the Torah, Daniel’s companions Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse to bow to King Nebuchadnezzar’s golden statue and are thrown into a fiery furnace by the angry king. The three followers of the God of Israel, however, are unharmed, because God not only protects them, he sends an angel to make sure that the King knows to respect his authority!

The appearance of the The angel, causes Nebuchadnezzar to institute some sweeping policy reforms in the Kingdom! He calls the three to come out of the fire, and blesses the God of Israel, and then passes a law that anyone who blasphemes against his new God should be torn limb from limb. (emphasis in the original).

So, while we’re still along way off from living in a constitutional democracy in terms of a governance model, you get the point. Reverend Powell feels that he’s like Shadrach, and the majority of Australians (who support equality for gay people) are like the despotic King Nebuchadnezzar!

Does everyone follow that?

This is an example of using the bible to convince yourself that being unpopular with your fellow citizens, is not being anti social, it is being virtuous! Because in Reverend Powell’s mind, despots (like the Rainbow Flag worshipers), need to be resisted.

Disregard what Carrie Bickmore says, if you have enough faith, God will show up to save you – from tyranny.

By understanding how Reverend Powell sees this issue, we can better understand how he isn’t open to persuasion, in his mind, his “opposition to homosexuality” is a sign that he loves God – and if that means walking into a furnace (or appearing on the Project oppose an “openly” gay MP), well so be it – it’s his ticket to greatness in God’s eyes.


Another Presbyterian Minister, Michael Prodigalidad (what a name!), slaps him on the back!  Yes, I’m preaching on this too, he chimes!


The religious nature of the opposition, however, really gets going when Carl Grande, yet another Minister, invokes Noah, saying to the effect, that it is hopeless, all they can do is, (wait for it), set up prayer groups “in schools” … and wait for Jesus to return – apparently this will really show these gayby babies a thing or two about who is king!

The best part of the conversation comes, though when a retired member of the congregation suggests that perhaps instead of just waiting for Jesus to return, that they “try to get the islamic community involved”. Take a second and wait for the cynicism of that strategy to wash over you.

Rainbow families, in this case are seen as a common enemy around which Islam and Christianity can find common purpose. The mind reels.

However, this plan to go find allies in the Islamic Community has one major flaw! There are no Mosques in Castle Hill!





Sadly, though, there is one problem!  Reverend Powell laments that “the islamic community is fragmented and lacks a spokesman!” (ya think?)

It is really hard to imagine a more cynical and craven plot, than to hope that another persecuted minority group in AustraliaSadly, though, there is one problem!  Reverend Powell laments that “the islamic community is fragmented and lacks a spokesman!” (ya think?)

It is really hard to imagine a more cynical and craven plot, than to hope that another persecuted minority group in Australia, can be used as cannon fodder in your war against the rainbow menace!

The question that citizens in NSW should be asking is why we have a system in place which grants a person so addled by his religious persecution complex a franchise to teach these same views in our State Schools? Does Reverend Mark Powell evince the kind of thinking that would lead him to teach religion well or badly? From what he’s shown here, it sure looks as though he uses his position of pastoral care over others to incite them to view the bible as guiding them to oppose gay people – and rather than be led toward compassion, his reading of the bible is that everyone is out to get him.

NSW schools would be better off without a system that incentivised clergy, like Mark Powell, who use the bible to justify their sense of feeling persecuted, to hold court in our education system, after all, we don’t want to use the schools as platforms for political agendas … do we?

In this last the pastoral care offered by Reverend Powell, is to encourage his followers to console themselves by reading the writings published by a leading conservative American think tank, whom the Australian Christian Lobby recently brought to Australia! It seems to escape the Reverend to also recommend the writing of other leading conservative thinkers, like Ted Olson who defend gay marriage. For Reverend Powell, it seems that hearing both sides of the debate only means listening to what he has to say.

But then, when you imagine yourself in a fiery furnace, it helps to know you have God on your side., can be used as cannon fodder in your war against the rainbow menace!

The question that citizens in NSW should be asking is why we have a system in place which grants a person so addled by his religious persecution complex a franchise to teach these same views in our State Schools?  Does Reverend Mark Powell evince the kind of thinking that would lead him to teach religion well or badly?  From what he’s shown here, it sure looks as though he uses his position of pastoral care over others to incite them to view the bible as guiding them to oppose gay people – and rather than be led toward compassion, his reading of the bible is that everyone is out to get him.

NSW schools would be better off without a system that incentivised clergy, like Mark Powell, who use the bible to justify their sense of feeling persecuted, to hold court in our education system, after all, we don’t want to use the schools as platforms for political agendas … do we?

In this last the pastoral care offered by Reverend Powell, is to encourage his followers to console themselves by reading the writings published by a leading conservative American think tank, whom the Australian Christian Lobby recently brought to Australia!    It seems to escape the Reverend to also recommend the writing of other leading conservative thinkers, like Ted Olson who defend gay marriage.  For Reverend Powell, it seems that hearing both sides of the debate only means listening to what he has to say.

But then, when you imagine yourself in a fiery furnace, it helps to know you have God on your side.



NSW Parliament hears Good News Beads Lesson – thanks FIRIS!

On 25 August 2015, Greens Member for Newtown Jenny Leong delivered a Private Members Statement regarding special religious education in NSW schools.

The statement included the Bible Society of Australia’s “Good News Beads” Lesson.

What is important about this example is that people who have the evidence usually win.

In this debate there are two sides.  Our side that says we should not have programmes designed to invite people who are running missionary programmes to evangelise for their religion into primary schools and the other who claim that “unless we have these programmes that our children won’t understand Shakespeare” (or some version of that).

Here is the good news bead lesson in case you too want to wave this in the face of the next idiot well meaning SRE apologist, who tries to tell you that SRE is not about proselytising!

Thank you Jenny Leong you’re compliments of us are appreciated and noted.  We urge parliamentarians in NSW to learn how to argue back when faced with the bankrupt, dishonest and self serving nonsense that keeps getting squirted at people who say that this stuff doesn’t belong in NSW schools!

The only reason that SRE exists is because of what you read right here – no more, no less:

Download (PDF, 2.87MB)


Shall we ask the Natives what they think?


The NSW Department of Education has a huge problem on its hands.  One that FIRIS will be focusing on as we shift our focus to NSW as the next front in the campaign to reform SRI/SRE policy in Australian Schools.

According to John Dickson, an energetic spokesperson fronting the rapidly contracting”SRE” franchise, one of the reasons that parents in NSW simply don’t have a distaste for the groups that use NSW schools to proselytise, is that NSW is a more “religious state”.


native distaste

Rev. Dickson believes that SRE is also better funded than the program in VIC.

FIRIS does not see this as a problem (just ask Moore College Alum, Stephen Hale, how money helps in this fight) – but rather a case of the “harder the come, the harder they fall”. One of the beautiful things about the FIRIS campaign is that it’s objective and fact-based. We can know and measure our progress.

One of the key things the FIRIS campaign does is to pull back the veil of euphemism that helps obscure from parents what is actually going on in with the groups running these programmes.

FIRIS has found that once parents are told the truth, and once the policy of coercion that props up this whole charade is exposed, the local sentiment is pretty rapid to voice its “distaste”.

Let’s have a look at one example at the kind of programmes running in NSW that turn our state schools into venues for child evangelists.


Meet “Rick George” from the Bible Society:




Here is his “show”, and note that Rick uses clear language about what his goals are:


So what do you think? Is this group in the schools to teach or to proselytise?

Does the larger war chest of the evangelical players in NSW mean that they’ll fight us off?

Or is Dickson right and unlike in Victoria, where this stuff was seen for what it is (i.e. child evangelism), is NSW a place where this is welcome in State schools?

Stay tuned … FIRIS thinks that parents in NSW are every bit as outraged that “Scripture” has become a venue for child evangelism and Hillsong happy clappers.

We think that NSW schools aren’t the place for this.  What do you think?  Leave a comment & sign up for the campaign to put SRE where it belongs, back in the church assembly halls and Sunday School timeslot!

Parents in NSW, are you really that different from the parents in Victoria?  We aim to find out.

Will the real Barney Zwartz please stand up?

barney thenBarney, your recent statement that you “regret” that the Department of Education has removed SRI, is a real shock to your old self, the one in 2011 who wrote this:

This battle (over SRI) is one the advocates of what is called special religious instruction are doomed to lose, because the high ground belongs to their opponents.

Back then while you were clearly predicting today’s victory by FIRIS, you were also very clear that:

 … the volunteer system is no longer adequate. Some Christians are unhappy with it, and want a more pluralistic version that could include non-religious ethics.  It is in everyone’s interest to have a religiously and ethically literate society. What is needed is a formal course taught by trained teachers, introducing students to the various religions and non-religious ethical theories but advocating none, probably as part of the proposed national curriculum. The problem with the current system is not only that it is haphazard in whom it reaches, but that it teaches only one religion and is open to abuse. Victorian volunteers are explicitly instructed that they must not proselytise, but it seems some do — although this problem, again anecdotally, is far worse in NSW and Queensland.

Today however, all you seem to find is some kind of sadness, for the very thing you once were happy to see replaced!

I regret that it (the policy change by the Education Department) comes at the expense of Special Religious Instruction (SRI), which is being dropped from class time to lunch time or before or after school. This will obviously see a change in how classes work or a drop in numbers.

The classes have not been banned, and opportunities remain. It is simply a fact of life that Christianity is now one of many voices shaping the nation. Christians are having to adapt to the loss of the influence we once took for granted – it may be painful, but it is good for us. It should help us to be more authentic.

Furthermore, your 2011 self was quite clear that you did not just sympathise with the argument that children should not be automatically enrolled in SRI, you were quite clear that you were willing to admit that the current system was “open to abuse” and “was no longer adequate”.

Today however your boss, John Dickson, wrote to “lament” the loss of SRI in Victoria.


So which is more authentic?  The Barney Zwartz writing for THE AGE in 2011 or the Barney Zwartz who works for John Dickson at the Centre for Public Christianity, who writes today to “regret” that the Minister of Education seems to have done exactly what the 2011 Barney Zwartz advocated?


Brett Lee-Price’s priceless performance on 7 news!


The most energetic defenders of SRE are strident evangelicals who when given the chance to speak out about their beliefs and their motives … they are mute, or they make up a cover story.

The fantastic irony is that they also complain that they are oppressed and are being hounded out of the “public square”.

We were delighted to learn that Mr. Lee-Price came to the launch of the FIRIS billboard!

brett lee price TV2

but we were saddened that when given the microphone by the TV 7 crew that he refused to comment!

I have no comment for the media

Brett Lee-Price:  I have no comment

The irony is that, Mr. Brett Lee-Price, does have a lot to say … we know because he’s among the most vocal and retweeted SRE advocates in NSW.

brett lee price TV

and he blogs regularly about FIRIS and our lack of understanding.

Mr. Lee-Price writes on his website that, he feels “Christians are discouraged from public discourse if they mention just two words, God or Jesus”.

However, when Mr. Lee-Price was being invited to have “public discourse” he chose to refuse to say anything at all!

This is a shame because the public deserves to understand this issue.  The public also needs to understand that SRE advocates seem to not want to tell the 7 News, as stated on his website, that he has a “deep desire to see Christians evangelizing and modelling the Gospel to those who are unsaved. We have a passion to see individuals repent and believe unto Him. We too, like God, desire to see all to come to repentance and be saved (1 Timothy 2:3-4, 2 Peter 3:9).”

No one was preventing him from saying exactly that when asked by the media, “what do you think”?  But instead, he said nothing.

Our question is why?

Why do SRE’s passionate defenders say such plainly worded things on their websites, but then demurre when asked this in a public forum?

Is it because they are being oppressed?  Is it because other people, have opinions about the proper limits of what should be happening in a public school classroom, and what is, at the end of the day, a deeply intrusive form of pestering other people with your religious feelings?

The relevant question of course is “why do you need legislation to see all come to repentance and be saved”?  Because from where FIRIS sits, it sure seems like that is what you are aiming to do (to our children).

Mr. Lee-Price seems to imagine that he’s being silenced, but here he’s chosen to avoid contributing to the “public discourse”, by simply stating what his “deep desires are”, and we’re the one’s being asked to remove our kids from their classrooms while he acts out his “deep desires”.

Let’s be clear.  One side in this public discourse are clearly not willing to engage in debate, or when they do, they spin what anyone can plainly see are their evangelical and missionary motivations.  The public does not dislike this because of any hostility to God or Jesus, but because what this has nothing to do with education.

Mr. Lee-Price – no one was taping your mouth shut … you had the chance to say what your “deep desires” are on TV news … but you didn’t?

That is a problem because if you want to have our respect you can’t be avoiding being honest with us or the media.

The people behind this system, like Mr. Lee-Price, moan about how oppressed they are, and when asked, they have “no comment” or they tell us a calculated story that sounds nothing like their true intent which is to see our children saved.

Thanks for coming to the FIRIS event, next time, please, try telling us what you think, we’re sure the public would benefit from knowing.


The public’s schools aren’t the public square: Dickson’s abuse of the secular principle



John Dickson’s latest talking point in the rear guard action to defend SRE is to confuse the “public square” with the “public schools”.  Dickson’s gambit is to avoid talking about the real impact SRE has on education or the specifics of how SRE in NSW is administered – and to play the victim card against FIRIS, our supporters and the education profession, by arguing that removing SRE is the same as “excluding religion“.

Because Dickson is playing a culture war game, his choice of language is shot through with culture war tropes, such as this.  It is absurd to claim, as he does, that the curriculum and management of public education in NSW should be administered as if it was a”public square”, yet Dickson soldiers on in his effort to muddle the public understanding of this policy issue by turning it into a culture war shibboleth.

FIRIS certainly isn’t proposing to “ban religion” when it argues that the SRE policy is a bad policy – yet those are the binary choices that Dickson offers his flock.  Dickson’s gambit turns this discussion into a zero sum game, but these terms, while seeming to offer refuge politically by making this issue a “no go” zone for politicians, ultimately doom Dickson’s interests.  The advocates of SRE are destined to loose, because FIRIS occupies all of the moral high ground on this issue.  SRE is bad policy, we oppose it, our efforts will, eventually, see it removed from the schools, but this improvement in education policy does not remotely constitute a “ban” or an “exclusion” of “religion” from either the schools, or the “public square”.

Dickson, and the para-church ministries he fronts, like the Bible Society, YouthWorks, Gener8 Ministries, Scripture Union, Campus Crusade for Christ, etc … will all continue to exist, they will, for example freely gather at the Lausanne Conferences and publish elaborate strategies about how to convert everyone in the whole world follow their religion.

Show me an advocate of SRE and I'll show you someone who isn't looking for their religious freedom, but instead for your conversion to their religion

Show me an advocate of SRE and I’ll show you someone who isn’t looking for their religious freedom, but instead for your conversion to their religion

All that will change for these para-church groups as a result of the FIRIS campaign, will be that they will no longer operate during the time set aside for education during the compulsory school day, with the endorsement of the Department of Education – which is really what this is about.

These groups aren’t battling for their existence, they are fighting for a franchise to use our schools as venues for mission.  The reason for his is easy to understand – because schools are places where children are required (by law) to attend, the staff and the teachers of the schools, as well as the amenity of the buildings  and administrative structure are under a legal obligation to host the clergy and other “approved” SRE providers, what these groups value – and lets be clear – this is valuable, is the administration of their program, which is not a personal freedom, but a public grant of substantial scope and scale.  John Dickson isn’t seeking a right to use the public square, he’s seeking a right to commandeer part of the apparatus of public education.

To put a price on this, divide the total annual school budget & the rent on the assets by 3% – and that amount would be something like a fair price that the public is paying so John Dickson and Michael Jensen, and others can conduct “mission” in Australian Government Schools.

FIRIS, says:  this is wrong and should be stopped because its a terrible policy.

Dickson isn’t seeking a right to offer religious instruction, he is seeking the maintenance of a grant of executive and legislative licence to operate within an environment that is compulsory, and paid for under clear operating principles for which he seeks an exception*.  He and others seek to influence the behavior of others through the authority society vests in the schools.  This is why we have arguments over the content of information on government forms, why there is something called “non Scripture”, why there is politics around this, and why there is a statue in force.  These things (policies & laws) make up a franchise which Dickson is loathe to see taken from his “corporate” interests.

Rather than discuss this issue grounded in reason, his efforts are all directed at fueling a culture war stoush which begins by confusing the education system in NSW with something he’s fond of calling, a “Public Square”.


Consider for a second that the legislature passed a law that gave 3% of all the school books to Coca-Cola Amatil.  For example for every 100 pages of educational material, 3 of the pages were set aside for Coca-Cola advertising and promotion.  Would this seem absurd?  What if I argued that restricting Coca-Cola from using 3% of the school’s text books was an imposition on the right that Coke has to “access the public square”?  Would I be taken seriously?

But this is exactly the same argument that Dickson is making, and it is absurd.

The Public Schools are NOT the "Public Square".

The Public Schools are NOT the “Public Square”.


Advocates of policy reform, should not however take comfort in the fact that Dickson and SRE’s advocates are making absurd arguments – because they rely on broad public confusion over just why our schools are “secular” in the first place, and an increasingly apathetic population who can be fooled by making arguments about the “cultural role” that the christian religion plays in the humanities.

More troubling however is that Dickson can exploit a historical lack clarity around the term “secular” to re-imagine the past, and to cast the NSW policy as some kind of foundational touchstone for a “healthy” form of secular society.


Dickson will get a lot of mileage from this tactic, which is shameful coming from a man of such obvious interest in history.  The reality of Australian history and especially the relation of religion and education is Australia is much less flattering to organized religion.

If you are interested in a detailed analysis of this question, and how the matter played out while Australia was still a colony of the British Empire, this paper traces the issue in the debates and shows how clergy have relentlessly worked to prevent the secular principle from being realized in Australian schooling.  Dickson is indeed acting out a historical role – but its a pernicious one, and something that Australians hopefully will not be duped into leaving by the road, as self interested sectarian interests – have always sought to advance their factional interests at the expense of the public good.


* The various legislative provisions that extend the right for clergy to access public schools were created as exceptions to the principles of public education, mainly due to political power held by clergy.  Australia led the world in the creation of a system of education – which recognised that the the public’s interest in education did not extend to, nor seek to suppress religious observance, and did not extend to religious doctrine, which the state leaves in the hands of churches and religious groups who are free to assemble and worship in Australia.

The important thing about Australian education is that the the public’s role in providing education to its citizens was always limited – and sought to avoid “the religious question”.  The reason for this however is that during the colonial period, the colonists found that clerical control of education was a disaster – so they terminated the longstanding tradition of leaving education in the hands of churches and created “public instruction acts”.  That we have “public education” at all, was a social response to the pernicious influence that churches sought to impose on society by cleaving citizens into sectarian groups.


Does John Dickson think we’re fools?



Rev. John Dickson’s insistence that SRE in our schools is not animated by a desire to proselytise has become a farce.

A kind of court theater.  A jest.

On Noel Debien’s ABC Sunday night radio show, (Sunday, August 2, 2015), audio of a training film put out by the Bible Society was played for Dickson’s response.

FIRIS asserts that this material, is part of an extensive curriculum and training resource pointed at SRE teachers and unequivocally part of a pattern that demonstrates that SRE volunteers are being encouraged by the peak bodies and parachurch ministries that exploit the legislated SRE franchise, to proselytise to captive groups of children.  We assert furthermore that the SRE providers rely on the trust that parents place in the Department of Education, as an implied “stamp of approval”, when really there is no departmental oversight of this material at all.

Furthermore we assert that the groups who promote SRE tell parents one thing, and actively encourage another thing.

The Bible Society funds John Dickson’s apologetics shop, “Centre for Public Christianity”, and the Bible Society published the “Wild Bible Curriculum“.

John said that he was not “sure of the status of the video” and he claimed that the video was “not shown to children”, and he asserted that the material was not “approved curriculum”.

The facts in this example are that this video was designed as a tool to train SRE instructors, and that the materials described in the video, are printed “lesson plans” for use in SRE.  This is all quite clearly articulated in the videos themselves, and the lessons are published by John’s primary funding body.

So we’ve shown a video of a man who goes into state schools, dresses kids in a hessian sack, puts them in chains and a jester’s cap and tells them that the only salvation from sin is through belief in Jesus – and SRE’s defenders will still persist in attempting to sell us the line that SRE is not used for proselytising.

The mind reels.  SRE teachers aren’t the only ones who can hand out jester’s hats!

Watch the video and see for yourself.






Can Zac Veron use plain language when soliciting parents to enroll in SRE?

Zac Veron is the CEO of the Youthworks SRE franchise that operates in NSW.  He is the Evonne Paddison of NSW.  Evonne recently resigned after years of claiming that her organisation, ACCESS Ministries, “did not proselytise”.  Evonne made this claim despite also giving this speech, which laid out her strategy to proselytise.

Evonne proved, and Zac Veron seems to be confirming, that the CEO’s of Youth Ministry groups can’t be trusted to account for their true intentions.  So while we don’t yet have a tape of Zac Veron blatantly articulating how his ministry group seeks lost youth whose parents can not be trusted to raise them in his religion, we will just have to trust that he’s not trying to deceive anyone.

Having changed the terms on which SRI operates in Victoria, FIRIS has recently expanded the scope of its campaign to change the landscape for SRE in NSW and because of this, Zac Veron has to address the issues surrounding the policy in NSW against a highly effective FIRIS campaign, which has as its core tool:  honesty.  We simply show what SRE is, how it works and tell why it should not be in schools.

Zac Veron is correct that one of our core messages is that SRE/SRI is proselytising.  The campaign has now moved into the phase where the CEO’s of Ministry groups like Zac, stand up to deny that they exist to proselytise.

In his latest blog post, Rev. Veron has taken to the web to argue in effect that:

1.  Youthworks don’t proselytise by calling for conversions in class, but when they do, (ie when FIRIS catches them out) its not their fault, it is a mistake, because (start over at beginning of sentence).  Zac is in essence saying that his classes don’t involve “pressure” to convert.


2.  Youthworks exists to instruct children in faith (and the law makes this legal for them to do inside our schools), which makes what they do instruction which is not proselytising, because the people in SRE classes have chosen to sign up for this program, hence they are not being converted, they are being instructed in their chosen religion.

In essence, what Zac is saying is that his lessons are “for Christians”, so don’t be offended if your child is woken at night with nightmares about being a sinner, because – Zac isn’t responsible for “what is in the bible”, and he essentially defines away proselytising by using it to mean “coerce” or “pressure” in a way that is outside of the kinds of coercion or pressure which he designates as “acceptable”.

Read Zac’s piece here:



Lately he, like Rob Ward of ACCESS Ministry have been thanking FIRIS for helping them clean up the SRE/SRI program, which they swear they have all along been wanting to see improved.  It has just been providence that the FIRIS campaign has been ordained to create the conditions under which their improvements can take place.

We at FIRIS are grateful for this kind recognition of our role in helping tighten the ship of SRE/SRI.

It is in that spirit then that we offer this challenge to Rev. Veron.  Since you forthrightly state in your essay that:

[Youthworks] educates students in the Christian faith by teaching biblical truths such as universal sin and that Jesus the Son of God became flesh and reconciled us to God through his death and resurrection.

We would like to ask that this “purpose” is clearly communicated to parents in your sign up and promotional materials.

If you are sincere about only wanting families who approve and fully understand what you do, to take your classes, why not use language substantially like the above when recruiting for participants and when marketing your program?

We think you avoid doing this.  For an example of the kind of information that is used to market SRE to parents, see this, from the “overview” page from the YouthWorks website.   Here you will find words like “ethical”, “holistic”, “moral”, “nurturing”, and “faith”.  What you will not find are words like “sin”, “death”, “resurrection”, and “biblical truth”.

While you are correct in asserting that the law in NSW provides you legal access to schools to instruct children in the tenets and beliefs of your religion – when presenting this to parents, you always choose to phrase things in ways which we assert are intended to conceal your plain motives and the simple meaning of your program.  To answer the question, “are (Christians) being dodgy?  The answer is “yes”, because you are choosing to speak in terms that make your program seem like something it is not:  “holistic”, “ethical”, “moral”, “nurturing” and above all “inquiry” based.  You use terms like “help children explore the gospel for meaning”, when in fact your program is “catechetical”.

Context in this situation is everything – and what is going on in NSW, as it was going on in Victoria, is that Zac Veron, and YouthWorks seek to hijack the education system of NSW to run a youth ministry inside of a period of time when children are compelled by law to be present in the school.  They then carefully manipulate their “pitch” to the captive audience, knowingly avoiding the plain theological implications of their instruction to make catechetical instruction seem like some kind of inquiry based learning that is consistent with what parents expect inside a state primary school.

This is why it is easy to spot the difference between Zac Veron says in his defense of SRE in response to FIRIS, and what Zac Veron says to parents who ask “so what is SRE”.
statement compareRev. Veron, nothing is stopping you from being forthright and direct with parents, and from the words you’ve written in your essay, it is plain that there is language that we can both agree on to describe your agenda.  Now all you have to do is use those words when speaking to parents about what they are signing up for.

It is a simple matter to speak plainly and in clear language.  See, we think that the entire reason why you demand legislation to be in our schools in the first place is because you are a missionary organisation and you are seeking out converts among other people’s children.  That is why SRE instructors describe your program as a “mission field” to be taken advantage of.

If you really only intend to educate children whose families choose for them to take SRE, why not be honest with parents?