The Open Secret of Religious Instruction in State schools

The Open Secret of Religious Instruction in State schools – ONLINE opinion 19 October 2016 #RE #SRE #Baird

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It’s long been an open secret that educators and politicians turn a blind eye to proselytising in faith classes.

In spite of numerous media reports highlighting proselytising in the Connect series of special religious instruction (SRE) lessons, Premier Mike Baird has pledged to continue with SRE, based purely on his own personal faith. Listen to him tell Werrawee Anglican Church:

“I’m not going to distance what I believe from who I am, and, in that context, I think, SRE should remain as part of our schools and will remain as part of schools while I’m there.”

And his Education Minister Adrian Piccoli stubbornly refuses to release the $300,000 report by ARTD consultants, investigating various concerns about SRE and ethics (SEE), despite holding on to it for nine months.

Advising on “the nature and extent of SRE and SEE” in NSW schools, a source from ARTD consultants said the report was an objective analysis, which no-one would be happy with. That could be why the state government has filed it under the rug.

Responding to inquiries about Connect lessons proselytising, the NSW Education Department Director, Jason Miezis (on behalf of Minister Adrian Piccoli), advised on 20 July 2016:

“Given that parents/caregivers have indicated their preferred religious persuasion for the child on enrolment, proselytising should not occur in school authorised activities”.

In other words, parental consent equates to a child being considered a Christian.

So, proselytising – soliciting a child for a decision to change their religious affiliation – should not occur.

The problem is, we’re talking about 6 and 7 year olds.

And, if the fallacy isn’t plain enough, the authors of Connect themselves remind instructors that most of their audience is not yet Christian. That’s why they’re proselytising! The NSW Education department earns the “Computer-Says-No” award for deliberately missing the point.
Additionally, the letter from Miezis states the department is perfectly happy for SRE volunteers to inform students of local church run activities.

“How about asking your parents if you could come along to kids club or kids church. (This would be a good time to hand out flyers.) (Connect Upper Primary, B2, Lesson 17, p. 181)”.

“Hand out the flyers for local church services if you have them (Connect Upper Primary, C1, Lesson 10, p. 100).”

But, in contrast, the recent Queensland education department review found the above were examples of possible proselytising.
Disturbingly however, it found no legal obstacle to proselytising.

“…legal advice provided by faith groups has indicated the view there is no legislative basis for prohibition of proselytising in the EDPA or EDPR [the relevant Education Acts]. The Department’s Legal and Administrative Law Branch supports this view”. (Page 6)

And nothing further has been done about it. While Education Minister Kate Jones has taken commendable steps forward in addressing age inappropriate and outdated materials in faith classes, the failure to address proselytising is curious.

Even more curious is the way the advocates of bible classes claim proselytising doesn’t occur, before rushing off to obtain favourable legal opinions to safeguard it.

Educator’s find themselves entangled in a Gordian knot. Scripture classes are by their nature evangelical. Making disciples is the unambiguous mission of evangelical Christians. For example, Connect’s own youthworks website says making disciples is why they exist.

When challenged, they will point out SRE is “preaching the gospel”. And so, reviewer’s must either tell evangelists not to evangelise, or allow faith classes to proceed on the basis of soliciting children to Christianity. In a nutshell, evangelising is allowed. Thus, parents should be aware that, as in NSW, consent to SRE is viewed by government as a license to convert their child to Christianity.

The Queensland review muddles the issue further by attempting to distinguish evangelising from proselytising. The Oxford online dictionary defines evangelise as: “convert of seek to convert someone to Christianity”, or “Preach the gospel”. To proselytise is to “convert of attempt to convert someone from one religion, belief or opinion to another”.

The following examples from the lesson materials illustrate how this is a distinction without a difference. Following allegations of proselytising, the authors of Connect preface the concluding prayer as follows:

“This is how Christians talk to God. If you would like to pray with me please join me. If you don’t then please lower your head so we don’t get distracted while praying this short prayer”.

And the prayer follows:

“Dear God, thank you that Jesus dies on the cross so I could be part of your family. I am sorry for wanting to live my own way, but now I want to live your way. Please forgive me and help me to learn more about you. Amen.

If you prayed that prayer in your head, welcome to God’s family! You’re a Kingdom Kid”.

Another example:

“The Bible tells us there are two kinds of people; the people who have faith and will live forever with God, and those who say no to Jesus.
“We need to decide which type of person we want to be. Will we follow Jesus?”

It hardly matters whether you regard these as proselytising or evangelising. Such muscular, coercive entreaties to join the faith, are plainly inappropriate for primary age children. Why are such brazen and explicit attempts to induct children into “God’s family” even necessary if they are already observant Christians?

Parents who think they’ve signed their child up to a harmless introduction to the bible, should think again.

Breaking the Gordian knot involves removing evangelical SRE classes from state schools altogether. Replace them with comparative classes run by state school teachers, or remove them entirely.

The NSW Education department earns the “Computer-Says-No” award for deliberately missing the point.

No need or reason demands them given the multitude of churches and faith based schools in our country. But for now, it’s up to parents and principals to navigate contradictory and deceptive policies surrounding special religious instruction.

We’re left to wonder when State governments will honestly deal with the uncomfortable truth about proselytising, and whether Minister Piccoli will ever release the $300,000 taxpayer funded report.

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