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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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Review Signals the Beginning of the End for Bible Classes

 

Review Signals the Beginning of the End for Bible Classes – AIM Network 28 September 2016

 

The recent Queensland government review of the “Connect” Religious Instruction (RI) materials bring to light several reasons why, ultimately, faith-based classes will cease in school hours in the Sunshine state.

Also, given Connect’s lessons are widely used, the New South Wales government would be wise to take note. However, driven by his own Christian faith, Premier Mike Baird has committed to maintaining special religious instruction (SRE) while he’s in office. He’s supported by Education Minister Adrian Piccoli, who stubbornly refuses to release the $300k report by ARTD consultants, investigating various concerns about SRE, despite holding on to it for nine months. A source from ARTD consultants said the report was an objective analysis, which no-one would be happy with.

In contrast, Queensland Education Minister Kate Jones deserves credit for instigating the review and following up its recommendations. Stung into action after Windsor State School principal Matthew Keong scrapped the Connect RI program because he found 39 examples of “soliciting” students to Christianity, the review lists numerous examples of “outdated and inappropriate content”.

Disturbing material includes the “grooming” of seven-year-olds to form “special friendships” and keep secrets with instructors. Also, lessons discussing whether disabled people are being punished by God, using dead animals as sacrifices to God, and using tomato juice to simulate the drinking of blood.

Beset by controversy, recent media reports highlight Youthworks Connect lessons featuring vampires and beheadings. Concerns have been raised by the sin and salvation messaging, which denigrates children as sinners akin to dirty towels, and menaces them that they’ll die if they’re selfish.

A statement from Ms Jones admitted there had previously been “no consistent oversight of materials being used for religious instruction in Queensland state schools”. Consequently, the education department will forthwith exercise greater control over lesson content.

Enrolling in RI will become explicit and opt-in, mitigating a common cause for complaint that many students are placed in RI by default, without parental consent.

Enrolments plummeted by nearly half when it became Opt-in in Victoria, and three years later RI was removed from school hours due to lack of interest and “to focus teachers and students … on the core curriculum”. (It’s still available at school out of hours).

There’s no reason to think this pattern will not repeat itself in Queensland. And the momentum towards change becomes irresistible when we consider some of the other concerns.

Australia’s slipping performance in literacy and numeracy – as noted in our PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) and NAPLAN results – reinforce the consistent findings of educational reviews – that the curriculum is overcrowded.

One of the architects of our school curriculum, Professor Ken Wiltshire recently demanded a stop to the “outsourcing’’ of religious instruction and sex education to “ideological interest groups’’.

Furthermore, studies undertaken by Stanford University professor, David Labaree, show that add-on programmes targeting social issues such as alcohol abuse, drug use, and racial equality, have little, or no effect.

Our priorities in education are reflected in how we measure it. If we’re going to measure our education system on literacy and numeracy, then we need to sharpen our focus on those key areas.

But, as our society becomes less religious and more diverse, the push to revive our Christian tradition becomes ever more aggressive and desperate. State school RI programs have become more fundamentalist and proselytising.

The “right” for faith groups to teach religion like “any other subject”, has been championed by Australian Catholic University fellow, and Australian curriculum author, Kevin Donnelly.

But alas, RI is not taught like any other subject.

Instructors are not required to have formal teaching qualifications. According to Queensland Teacher’s Union President, Kevin Bates, classes often become unruly requiring the supervising teacher to step in and retain control.

RI Classes bear scant resemblance to knowledge based classes, such as politics or economics, which provide a comparative reading of competing ideologies. In contrast, these entreat children, (identified as mostly non-Christians by Connect’s lesson materials), to recite prayers and accept the message of Jesus.

Youthworks own website says making disciples of children is “why we exist”. Disturbingly, the publisher of Connect even obtained legal advice to suggest that proselytising is allowable unless aimed at converting a child from one RI approved faith to another. The review agreed with this advice, but disappointingly, failed to make any specific recommendations forbidding proselytising.

And so, in the short term, schools will continue to divide up classrooms for evangelical bible lessons. The project reeks of social engineering and discriminates against nonreligious families and those who do not belong to the faiths on offer. There’s simply no necessity to teach religion in public schools.

Australian parents retain the freedom to bring up their children in whatever faith (or lack thereof) they choose. Under-patronised churches, built for that very purpose, stand within a slingshot of most state schools. We even have independent faith-based schools as an option.

RI allows approved faith groups to co-opt state school classrooms for up to one hour a week. Children who don’t participate must be offered other unspecified non-curricular activities. Wasting time, in other words.

The “Every Day Matters” policy of QLD’s Education department seems startlingly at odds with a curriculum where bible classes take up nearly a full term of a child’s primary school tenure. Rather than continuing with the same policy and praying for a different result, schools will eventually discard contested and non-core courses, and focus on reading, writing and numeracy.

For good reasons, pressure continues to mount on State governments to move faith classes outside of school hours.

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Music Points to God, Kiss My A***

Barney Zwartz, senior fellow of the Centre for Public Christianity, makes a strange and circular argument that the music of Mozart and others, “points us to God”.  According to Zwartz every music lover is “aware of its link to the spiritual”, and that music points to the “divine rationality and beauty of the Creator”.

But alas, Zwartz is troubled by the fact that many people love music and still manage to be unmoved to faith in God. How could this be? But, the apparent challenge to his unsupported claim is dismissed on the basis of some nice anecdotes of composers who claimed divine inspiration.

Quoting the great Jewish Hungarian conductor Sir Georg Solti:

“Mozart makes you believe in God – much more than going to church – because it cannot be by chance that such a phenomenon arrives into this world and then passes after 35 years, leaving behind such an unbounded number of unparalleled masterpieces.”

I wonder what Solti and Zwartz thought of Mozart’s dirty music. A perennial favourite the 1782 canon in B-flat major “Leck mich im Arsch” (literally Lick me in the arse).

Leck mich im A… g’schwindi, g’schwindi!
Leck im A… mich g’schwindi.
Leck mich, leck mich,
g’schwindi

(‘g’schwindi’ means ‘quickly’)

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The phrase, which roughly translates to “kiss my arse”, was changed by a later publisher to “Let us be glad”.

Another Mozart composition “Bona Nox” concludes triumphantly, “Shit in your bed and make it burst, Good night, sleep tight, And stick your ass to your mouth”.

Rounding out the rear-end inspired trilogy is “Leck mir den Arsch fein recht schön sauber” (“Lick my arse nice and clean”) – (although there is some doubt about whether he composed this later work).

Do these point to God?

Maybe not.

Mozart was famously and often at odds with his own Catholicism. In one of his letters he describes a sojourn his cousin and he had with a priest Father Emilian in Augsburg:

“[Father Emilian] was an arrogant ass and a simple-minded little wit of his profession… when he was a little drunk which happened soon, he started on about music. He sang a canon… I took the third voice, but I slipped in an entirely different text: ‘P[ater] E: o du schwanz, leck mich im arsch’ [“Father Emilian, oh you prick, lick me in the ass”]

But we can thank Mozart for providing the best answer to Zwartz. You think music points to God? Well, I’ll point you to this – “Leck mich im Arsch!”

 

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Legislating 18C Unbinds the Coalition from the SSM Plebiscite

This entry has previously been published as: Trying to Silence Unwelcome Views Only Perpetuates ThemThe Huffington Post Australia 6 September 2016
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The Coalition went to the last election promising not to put before parliament a vote on Same Sex Marriage, nor changes to Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

And so, if the Coalition jettisons its pre-election commitment and supports Corey Bernardi’s bill to amend section 18C then there’s nothing stopping it from similarly considering marriage equality.

The “we-went-to-the-election-with” mantra is mute.

And if it succeeds, the government could quietly cancel what some have described as a $160 million festival of homophobia. Perhaps that’s a little unfair. (The final bill will probably be much more).

Liberal Senator Corey Bernardi has apparently secured the support of up to 20 Senators for a private members bill watering down Section 18C.

The free speech issue does not command the same level of public support as marriage equality.

But it should. It’s in Australia’s best interest to legislate on both amending 18C and marriage equality.

It’s folly of the highest order to imagine we can protect everyone in the country from offence or insult.

Remarkably, most of the commentary fails to acknowledge Section 18D whatsoever.

18D exempts art work, scientific debate and fair comment on matters of public interest from 18C, as long as they are said reasonably and in good faith.

Even though 18D goes some way toward mitigating 18C, it would still require mind readers and psychoanalysts to determine what speech is “reasonable” and in “good faith”.

Whether a recent cartoon by Bill Leak is reasonable or in good faith remains the subject of much ill-tempered dispute.

There’s plenty of things I’d like to say to Corey Bernardi that would offend and insult offend a reasonable person.

And, in the meantime, several QUT university students have their reputations and career prospects in tatters, by charges which will no doubt be ultimately thrown out.

Advocates for retaining 18C in its present form bring up the tiny percentage (3-5%) of convictions as an argument for retaining it; as if the huge numbers of spurious complaints, which choke up our legal process and benefit neither party, represent a virtue.

Don’t be fooled by the super-sized red herring which asks you to reject changes to 18C because most of the free speech advocates are whale-sized bigots.

Even if some of them are, it’s not their opinions at stake. It’s about what the general public – that is, you and I – are allowed to read or hear.

Do we really wish to censor ourselves from such views?

Those with unorthodox views on race or ethnicity don’t appear to have changed their minds in the decades 18C has been in place. We even vote some of them into parliament.

Meanwhile, we’ve cultivated a culture of vilifying people who do or say the “wrong” thing.

The media feeds on and recirculates the outrage until it becomes a many-headed hydra, bigger and scarier and more hateful than the prejudice from which it was spawned. And the media-storm seems to attract more followers to the xenophobic cause than it turns away.

The phenomenon is more advanced in other western democracies, resulting in unfortunate blowback in the form of Brexit and the popularity of Donald Trump.

Give bigots their right to speak. History teaches us that trying to silence unwelcome views only ferments and perpetuates them.

Disagreeable and prejudiced views should not be answered by outrage, rather by well-formed evidence based arguments placing the spotlight on their failures, fallacies and inherent bigotry.

The same logic applies to debate on same sex marriage. While I think the parliament should simply legalise marriage equality, we have nothing to fear from debate.

Sure, it will bring unsavoury views to the surface. And certainly, those views will insult and offend many in the LGBTI community. But would we rather pretend those views did not exist?

Wouldn’t discussing and challenging those views, debating them, and ultimately defeating them, be far more satisfying than silencing them?

Notwithstanding that, SSM has been debated ad nauseam for a long time now. We don’t need a non-binding plebiscite to tell us what opinion polls already have: the majority of Australians support SSM.

Bernardi claimed in March 2016 that redefining marriage is not dinner table conversation outside of the “militant homosexual lobby” and “twitterati”.

But 18C is? It’s hard to imagine tweaking the Racial Discrimination Act is dinner table fare for anyone beyond libertarians, and hard liners.

In response to the suggestion that other priorities super cede changing 18C, Bernardi said the government should be able to “walk and chew gum at the same time”.

While this leaves us imagining Senators entangled in chewing gum while eating their dinner, there’s no reason or mixed metaphor, which would preclude the government from legislating on both important issues.

Remember the golden rule of eating gum – you must bring enough for everyone.

If Malcolm Turnbull can seize the gauntlet and use the bill on 18C to justify a free vote on marriage equality, he’d achieve the dual benefit of reasserting his own leadership and seeing the back of two distracting and divisive issues.

So, let’s offer a toast to Corey Bernardi, wishing him good luck in removing “insult” and “offend” from Section 18C, thus, bringing marriage equality to the table. Resolve these and the Turnbull regime can move forward.

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Speaking Rashly About Rationalism

I often find myself bemoaning the lack of reasoned debate in politics. Of course we need more rational debate. Yeah, right. This is like advocating nutritious food, or breathing in oxygen as opposed to carbon dioxide. I also soberly recommend conventional forms of transport rather than shooting oneself out of a cannon.

We all think we’re rational. But in truth we’re members of an evolved hominid species prone to a plethora of biases which colour our thinking, distort what we perceive, and misguide our choices. We’ve come a long way since we were stromatolites hugging ocean floors nearly 4 billion years ago, but the use of reason remains an evolved and learned behaviour.

But isn’t this just the sort of thing a member of a rationalist organisation would say? I’m biased. And what’s so rational about me anyway? Membership doesn’t come with a corrective for human biases.

Groups such as the Rationalist Society of Australia (RSA) exist to stimulate the use of reason and evidence in public debate. Using reason not only contrasts with faith-based beliefs, but also with partisan politics and ideologies.

The recent debate about 18C is a curious case. According to those wanting to repeal or amend Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, it’s folly to try and protect people from offence or insult. In recent debate, matching the opinion to the source rarely evokes surprise. I’m not shocked, for instance, that Guardian columnists have come down roughly 100% against Corey Bernardi’s push to water down 18C.

That’s even including an insightful piece by Gay Alcorn who not only acknowledges the problems with 18C require amendment, but titles the piece “The debate about 18C doesn’t have to be a left-right slanging match”, before proceeding to negate her own argument by refusing to endorse Corey Bernardi’s move because, it’s well, Corey Bernardi, and he’s not our friend.

 

It is dispiriting that we have nobody with the grace and skill to bring people together to discuss all this, to try to work it out, without demonising supporters and opponents as bigots or left-wing hand wringers.

Bernardi must be pleased with his latest attempt. He is getting lots of publicity, lots of air-time, and a platform to present himself as freedom’s saviour. But his bill is unlikely to go anywhere. Given his prosecution of it, that’s no surprise. It doesn’t deserve to.

 

In “The defence of free speech is limited for the anti-18C brigade”, the Guardian’s Richard Ackland lists the alleged base motives and or hypocrisy of all the supporters of amending 18C. While he makes a reasonable point that the arch-conservatives seem only concerned about their own form of free speech, the point, like the title of the article, is limited. It’s only a criticism of those particular individuals, and does nothing to undermine their argument.

The article is notable for asking the following oft repeated question:

 

What is it, precisely, that people are constrained from saying?

 

Richard gives us his answer based on an alleged incident which occurred in Bentleigh.

Go on, fuck off. You make me sick, you fucken black slut… [and more of the same]

OK. Sounds pretty bad. But no-one is actually defending morons who say such things. The question is whether they should be thrown in jail.

What for instance would Richard say if the comment was in response to?

 

Go fuck yourself. You make me puke, you white cunt

Could both parties prosecute each other? That’s when we’d endure the pitiful explanation that it’s OK to vilify white people because they’re on the right side of the power imbalance.

There are plenty of answers to Ackland’s apparently unanswerable question. We walk on eggshells when we discuss the problems in Aboriginal communities, especially about issues which may be the fault of aboriginals. We can’t talk freely in criticism of Islam without accusations of racism or Islamophobia. The latter is especially concerning since it displays a singular determination to make an issue of race, where it’s not in evidence.

In Waleed Aly’s column for Fairfax he wrote about 18C and unsurprisingly concluded the real agenda of its advocates is to oppress minorities. Wow, that’s a real shocker. His argument suggests, unfairly, in my opinion, that the advocates of amending 18C are completely ignorant of 18D, which exempts several types of argument from prosecution under 18C unless they are unreasonable, or not in good faith.

Well, if Waleed can read the minds of his imagined adversaries then I might have a go at reading his. He seems to be applying the evidence to suit his own viewpoint, rather than the other way around. There’s no mention of the QUT case. There’s none of the acknowledgement, present in Gay Alcorn’s article, for example, that the legal profession is hardly uniform in support of maintaining 18C. Indeed, many legal minds consider the law hopelessly subjective, unconstitutional, and in need of repealing altogether. I hazard to say, many of these have even heard of 18D.

Note, Section 18C is too broad and too vague, and should be repealed, published in The Conversation and the ABC, by law lecturers and affiliates of the Liberal party, Lorraine Finlay, Augusto Zimmerman, and Joshua Forrester:

 

It is no answer to say section 18D provides exemptions to 18C. 18C already creates uncertainties about how vague terms like offend, insult and humiliate will be applied in any given situation. Section 18D compounds these uncertainties.

For example, all exemptions in 18D must be done “reasonably and in good faith”. This has been held to impose a “harm-minimisation requirement”. But what does this mean? Reasonable minds may differ whether a statement was a heartfelt opinion or an insult that could have been expressed more sensitively.

 

The argument that 18D is the unknown saviour of 18C fails to survive even modest scrutiny. But then, I’m biased by my pre-existing view: many of our laws infringe upon free speech. Our defamation laws, our postal laws, our security provisions – they are all too cognizant of obtaining the specific outcome they intended, without necessary acknowledgement of other basic freedoms.

Still, I can’t help thinking there should be more progressive voices in favour of amending 18C. Progressive freethought groups should know that free thought means little without free speech. The point remains valid even though it’s currently the hobby-horse of a certain Coalition Senator.

I’d like someone in the Australian media to surprise me with an argument outside the partisan norm. Surprise me. Please.

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Religious Freedom Doesn’t Care What You Believe, But The Census Does

Religious Freedom Doesn’t Care What You Believe, But The Census Does  – New Matilda 08 August 2016

Ahead of next week’s Census question on religion, spare a moment to consider religious freedom: the right to believe and practise your religion or non-belief.

We acknowledge each other’s rights to believe and disbelieve. Thus, I don’t care if you believe in God or not. Neither do I care whether you believe in a universal spirit, angels, Paleo, or magic beans.

Scientist or a Scientologist, it’s all the same to me. I don’t care if you’re if you’re a Jew or Gentile, Protestant or Pastafarian, an Anglican or an astrologer, Jesuit or a Jedi, or, if you worship John the Baptist or the John Frum Cargo Cult. But I do care if you answer the Census question accurately.

Why? Because the Census helps to determine government policy and funding, and helps explain who we are and how we live. It gives a snapshot of what we’re like and how we’ve changed. This year’s Census will likely show a shift away from Christianity towards non-belief, which might tip the balance towards more secular policymaking.

The Atheist Foundation of Australia (AFA) ‘no religion’ campaign invites Australians to consider if they’re “Not religious Anymore?”

AFA President Kylie Sturgess says the purpose is to encourage Australians to think honestly about their beliefs, so the Census result provides an accurate indication of religious affiliations.

“We’re letting people know they can mark ‘no religion’ when perhaps they didn’t realise that option was available to them, because until now, it’s always been at the bottom of a long list. You don’t have to be an atheist to mark ‘No religion’,” Ms Sturgess says.

“Many people feel spiritual, and lead moral lives encompassing values like charity, peace, and love without identifying as religious”.

Sportsbet reports ‘no religion’ is a favourite to shoot to number one place in our religious affiliation in the 2016 Census. It’s also giving good odds that ‘no religion’ will jump from 22.3 per cent in 2011 to over 30 per cent – a May IPSOS poll with the same question recorded 38 per cent.

When the 2013 Census answers were similarly reordered in New Zealand, ‘no religion’ leapt from 35 per cent to 42 per cent. In the UK and Wales ‘no religion’ has surged from 25 per cent in 2011, to 48.5 per cent in 2014.

The shift from Christianity to ‘no religion’ has been the topic of much speculation. The number of Christians is in freefall in Australia, only buttressed by the large number of people who record a Christian affiliation without necessarily believing in or observing the religion.

A 2012 McCrindle survey noted one third of Christians considered themselves “more spiritual” than Christian, and less than one in 10 Australians fill the pews regularly.

Australians are far less devout that our US cousins, but our country is also much less secular. Compared to the formidable Wall of Separation in the US Constitution, Australia’s impotent Section 116 (which has never been successfully upheld in Court) is scarcely a rabbit-proof fence, rickety and falling into disrepair, as millions of dollars in funding pass over it every year for religious enterprises.

Australian state and federal governments provide hundreds of millions of dollars for chaplains and for Sunday-school-style faith classes; they pour $11 billion into religious schools, and forgo about $20 billion in tax. Many tax-free faith groups run profitable businesses as well. Taxpayer funded faith-based groups enjoy blanket exemptions from anti-discrimination laws.

More tax payer money per student is provided to independent schools run by the secretive Plymouth (ex-Exclusive) Brethren, and those linked to Scientology, than to State schools. While new developments in genetics and evolutionary biology make headlines, we spend a billion dollars on schools teaching Creationism.

The beneficiaries of religious funding are organised faith groups, as opposed to individuals or groups from a cultural tradition. The taxpayer sponsors groups who may discriminate against them, espouse disagreeable views, and provide little or no public benefit.

Since the primary goal of most faith groups (especially Christian ones) is to promulgate their own beliefs, citizens marking the Census should carefully consider whether they still subscribe to those beliefs.

Do they believe in the Nicene Creed? Is salvation and eternal life attained through faith in Jesus? Was Jesus virgin-born? Was Jesus the son of God and made of the same substance as God? Do they believe in Satan? Did Jesus rise from the grave and ascend to heaven?

It might seem counterintuitive, but the higher the numbers for ‘no religion’, the more likely governments will move to protect religious freedom. The more we affirm our secular nature, the greater the pressure on governments to remain religion neutral.

This is the real meaning of religious freedom, as originally invoked by the Danbury Baptists and the Australian Catholics, when both groups campaigned for secularism to be enshrined in our respective Constitutions, to protect themselves from State interference in religion.

Founding Father and former US President Thomas Jefferson epitomized the spirit of secularism thus: “But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are 20 gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

The problem in Australia is that we allow faith to continually pick the taxpayer’s pocket – to the tune of billions of dollars – despite fewer and fewer of us subscribing to it.

A substantial bump in the numbers marking ‘no religion’ may help illuminate a new understanding of secularism, as well as an old understanding of religious freedom.

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God is More Permissive than Queensland Abortion Law

Queensland’s abortion law among the most repressive in world and must change – The Courier Mail 9 August 2016

FOUR in five Queenslanders want to change the archaic 1899 state law which makes terminating a pregnancy a crime.

A committee of inquiry has been asked by Parliament to report by August 28 on independent MP Rob Pyne’s Private Member’s Bill decriminalising abortion.

More than 1300 submissions have been received, many wrongly claiming it would place no gestational limits on the procedure.

David Van Gend and Amanda Sheehan have both written for The Courier-Mail, seeing to heighten this fear. Pro-lifer van Gend even said the Bill meant an “open season on babies right up to birth”.

His hyperbole is misplaced given Pyne has said gestational limits should be put in place and the committee has been asked to recommend appropriate limits based on arrangements in other states.

Moreover, late-term abortions are rare. Fewer than 1 per cent take place beyond 16 weeks in Australia. They’re expensive, difficult to obtain and usually due to tragic circumstances, such as severe foetal abnormality.

Van Gend also appealed to tradition, saying “the law on abortion in Queensland has stood the test of time”.

It’s easy to fall headlong into the trap that something is good because it’s been around for a long time. But, if we pause, we might recall the pre-Enlightenment millennia of slavery, racism, infant mortality, poverty and torture, and reject such a plea.

Nearly one in three women has an abortion at some time in their life. It’s a common medical procedure. Thus, it’s not surprising that there are approximately 70,000 each year in Australia — a figure Sheehan cited again and again as though it constitutes a national moral crisis.

What she wants to do about this apparent epidemic of “abomination” is unclear. Make it more illegal? Or, make it more punitive? Currently, women can be jailed for up to seven years and doctors for 14.

Reducing unwanted pregnancies is a better idea. A study by medical journal The Lancet, in the UK, showed that since 1999, sex education and contraception has halved unwanted teen pregnancies.

In Queensland, doctors operate in fear of contravening the law, relying on a legal precedent where the procedure is allowed if the health of the woman is endangered.

This ambiguity has real world consequences: a Cairns couple faced a criminal trial in 2010 and this year a pregnant, 12-year-old girl had to get the Supreme Court’s imprimatur for a termination.

Miscasting a heart-rending dilemma many women face as an “open season” to murder babies diminishes the rights of women, ascribing a sinister motives where none exist, and deliberately obscures the necessary balancing of rights.

Further, to cry “murder” in defence of a developing human embryo, a human in potential but not yet in reality, constitutes a category error.

There is simply no method to measure the rights of a foetus at every stage in its development. No point, from conception to birth, provides an easy or agreed milestone for when a foetus becomes a person: the point at which one of our systems of human rights could be applied.

International law rules that the rights of the woman take precedence over the foetus. To argue the opposite irrationally weighs the rights of the unborn and developing, over the fully developed woman.

Although the pro-life argument is consistent in Catholic dogma, conservatives and Christians have not always opposed terminations.

When thousands of poor, US women were dying from unsafe abortions in the 1960s, due to laws identical to those in Queensland, it was the New York clergy who took up the pro-choice cause.

The 1973 book, Abortion Counselling and Social Change, describes how Jewish and Protestant religious leaders evinced a “pastoral obligation” to help women obtain safe and affordable terminations.

New York legalised abortion in 1970 and the landmark pro-choice ruling in Roe vs. Wade occurred in 1973. But more than 40 years later, Queensland still has the same draconian laws.

Given this disagreement on what God thinks, perhaps we can take a cue from nature. Since half of pregnancies end in spontaneous natural termination and 20 per cent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage, God himself must be more permissive than Queensland law.

Rather than trumpeting the length of time we’ve retained abortion laws that are among the most repressive in the world, Queenslanders must stand them no longer.

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Independent MP Rob Pyne (image courtesy The Courier Mail)

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Fear not God or secularism: Census 2016

Fear not God or secularism: Census 2016 – 02 August 2016, On line Opinion

 

For some, the August 9 Census question on religion looms like pale death over the cherished idea of Australia’s Christian nationhood. In 2011 the combined sects of Christianity recorded 61% compared to “No religion” at 22.3%, but the 2016 Census will bring about a dramatic closing of this gap.

If other countries are anything to go by, the 2016 Census result could herald a discernible shift in Australia’s religious landscape. When the 2013 Census answers were similarly reordered in New Zealand, “No religion” leapt from 35% to 42%. In the UK and Wales “No religion” surged from 25% in 2011, to 48.5% in 2014.

Weekly church pews have been vacated by all but 8% of Australians. Nearly half said they were irreligious in a May 2016 Ipsos poll. Sportsbet offers “No religion” as the favourite to overtake Catholicism as the highest group in the 2016 Census. But for those whose daily bread is buttered by the tax payer, the poll foreshadows a more secular Australia, where the privileges of faith are increasingly under threat.

And so, Anglican Rector Michael Jensen (Spectator 20 July 2016) claims that if you tick “No religion” in the Census it will be a lie.

“There’s no such thing as a non-religious human being”, he boldly asserts, then redefines religion to include Marxism, the cult of ANZAC, caring for the environment, Don Bradman, or anything else you might describe as a philosophy.

I’m not sure which is worse: branding nonbelievers as liars, or the self-serving Humpty Dumpty-ism stripping religion of any distinctive meaning.

“So belief in God isn’t a defining characteristic of ‘religion’”, claims Jensen.

I’m not sure the wrathful, jealous God of the Old Testament would agree. A defining characteristic of faith involves the supernatural and the transcendent.

In 1983 the High Court of Australia nominated a two-fold criteria for religion:

 

“first, belief in a Supernatural Being, Thing or Principle;

and second, the acceptance of canons of conduct in order to give effect to that belief,”

 

The above mentioned criteria allowed Scientology to achieve tax free status.

Abandoning such criteria would allow all nonbelievers to partake in religion’s conspicuous benefits.

We’d all be free of tax, but the Commonwealth would have a big revenue problem! Don’t worry, that’s hardly the intention.

Also, by Jensen’s lights many Christians would be surprised to find themselves simultaneously members of various “religions”.

How would they honestly mark the Census?

We might see a syncretism of new sporting faiths such as the Australian Kangaroos of Christ, the Lady of the Assumption Vixens, or even the Melbourne Church of Latter Day Demons.

A similar transparent effort to discredit unbelief by Christian minister, Spencer Gear, asks “Is ‘no religion’ a new religion?” (Online Opinion, 19 July 2016).

It begins with the charming parable of the fruit cake. A baker has made a beautiful fruit cake, but he doesn’t want to call it a fruit cake.

He wants to call it a “furphy cake” or a “non-cake”.

Well, what a dilemma!

The parable is supposed to suggest that “No religion” is actually a religion.

But what if we change it so the baker presents two plates; one with a fruit cake, and one without? The empty plate has no cake. “No cake”. “No religion”. No problem.

The insistence that no belief constitutes a religion has an undistinguished theological pedigree. The standard response of atheists is to agree it’s a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby.

To say that “No religion” is actually a “religion” is unbaked nonsense.

Gear contrives an argument erroneously posing “Secularism” as a type of non-belief.

The key element of “Secularism” is the separation of church and state. If it were a religion its goal would be self- referential, and incongruous.

Enshrined in the Enlightenment age of universal religiosity, “Secularism” protects the religious freedom of all faiths and none.

It’s part of the Baptist tradition, evidenced in the campaigning of the Danbury Baptists, which resulted in then President, Thomas Jefferson, enshrining in the First amendment:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

Our own Section 116 of the Constitution reads similarly:

“The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance…”

Secularism is supported by 84% of Australians, many of faith, because it’s about allowing people to believe and practise what they want, free of state interference. Ironically, those who fear the rise of irreligion should take much comfort to that they might otherwise oppose – secularism.

Census data provides crucial evidence informing government policy and funding.

The Census asks “what is the person(s) religion?” According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics the major world religions are Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Tao, Confucian, Tribal and Animist.

Notwithstanding superficial comparisons of “religious” behaviour in sport or politics, the Census asks about real affiliation with real religions.

There’s no danger of Census data diverting funding to fanatical Marxists, or crazed sports fans – even those who might pray to effigies of Lenin, or believe Gary Ablett Junior is Jesus and Gary Ablett Senior is God.

That’s why I agree wholeheartedly with Michael Jensen’s plea for honesty. When faith influences so many Australian institutions, correctly understanding the numbers is imperative.

For the many Australians who once identified as Christians but have “lapsed” in their church going, the Census provides a chance for honest reassessment and mature reflection.

Do they still believe in the profession of the faith – the Nicene Creed? Was Jesus born of a virgin? Are God and Jesus made of the one substance? Did Jesus come back to life after three days and ascend to Heaven? Will Jesus return to judge the quick and the dead? How plausible is the idea of Hell, and eternal damnation?

I hope the Census provokes Australians to think carefully about their beliefs. For those who are Anglicans, they’re free to choose Anglican. For those who worship Buddha, choose Buddhism. Vouchsafing these freedoms is just the point. For those who want a genuine separation of church and state, and who don’t belong to any particular religious order, “No religion” is an easy choice.

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The Census Asks About Religion Not Culture

My Neighbour Can Say There Are 20 Gods Or None, Just Not On Census Night The Huffington Post Australia 9 August 2016

Until recently, I was ambivalent about the welcoming smiles of faith. I’ve always admired the famous quote from U.S. Founding Father Thomas Jefferson: “It does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are 20 gods, or no god.”

 But when my son came home from state school singing songs about Jesus and waxing about the amazing Creator-God who made the world, I was jolted out of my metaphysical slumber. Apparently, not everyone is ambivalent. Ingratiating smiles suddenly hardened with purpose.
 Many Australians inherit a cultural affinity with Christianity. Many of us have attended Christian schools, baptised our kids, been married in church-run ceremonies, or attended church for life’s big moments. But cultural heritage is unaccompanied by belief in the tenets of the religion, or by regular participation and membership.
Thus, question 19 of the 2016 Census provides an opportunity to reflect upon our beliefs and to reassess our religious affiliation. The Census collects data used for planning and funding.

The beneficiaries of religious funding are organised faith groups. The state provides hundreds of millions for chaplaincy and Sunday school style faith classes, it pours $11 billion into religious schools, and forgoes about $20 billion in tax. Many tax-free faith groups run profitable businesses as well. Taxpayer funded faith-based groups enjoy blanket exemptions from anti-discrimination laws.

More taxpayer money per student is provided to independent schools run by the secretive Plymouth (ex-Exclusive) Brethren, and those linked to Scientology, than to State schools. While new developments in genetics and evolutionary biology make headlines, we spend a billion dollars on schools teaching Creationism.

There’s scant benefit for the nonbeliever in the state financing of religious enterprises. The taxpayer sponsors groups who may discriminate against them, espouse disagreeable views, and provide no public benefit. Since the primary goal of most faith groups is to promulgate their own beliefs, citizens marking the Census should carefully consider whether they still subscribe to those beliefs.

Do they believe in the profession of the faith? The Nicene Creed? The Apostle’s Creed? Was Jesus virgin-born? Do they believe in God? The Trinity? Do they still believe in Heaven and Hell? Did Jesus rise from the grave and ascend to heaven? Are humans aggregated to either eternal bliss or damnation on the basis of faith?

Many Australians have turned away from church because of the child sex abuse scandal, and the spectre of jihadism. Despite Muslims only accounting for 2.2 percent of the population, a preposterous scare campaign encourages lapsed Christians to tick a Christian denomination on the Census to avoid Australia becoming an Islamic country.

Even if this fear were remotely justified, a more appropriate response would be reasserting our secular nature by marking “No religion”: the only response likely to lessen the influence and funding of faith-based groups.

Other Australians have turned away from faith due to skepticism of its non-evidenced and unverifiable claims. In an information exploded world, where facts are clicked in an instant and where medicine and technology proceed at warp speed, the dizzying claims of faith face an unprecedented challenge.

Most Australians strongly support secularism: 78 percent of those polled by Ipsos in January thought it important to separate religious beliefs from the business of government.

We inherit a rich cultural tradition, arising out of enlightenment thinking, Christianity, Westminster, free-market economics, and secularism, and we are now a culturally diverse, multi-faith society.

We applaud the freedom “for my neighbour to say there are 20 gods, or none”, but as Jefferson went on, “It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg”.

Alas, in our democracy, religion does pick the pocket of taxpayers. Governments are hardly ambivalent towards faith, subsidising it to the tune of billions of dollars, despite fewer and fewer tax payers subscribing to it. So when filling out the Census on Tuesday night, I hope Australians look beyond a historical cultural affiliation, and critically reflect upon their religious or irreligious beliefs.

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Suspend Religious Instruction in QLD and NSW State Schools

Religious Instruction should be suspended in all QLD and NSW state schools pending an investigation into inappropriate and proselytising teaching materials.

The Youthworks produced Connect program has been the subject of ongoing controversy with lessons involving beheadings, vampires, threats of damnation, threats of death, denigrating children as dirty sinners, and the blatant soliciting of conversions to Christianity.

The following is a small sample of media reports relating to Connect:

The Queensland government is reviewing the Connect material after it was suspended by the principal of Windsor State School, because it was found to be proselytising.

But given how shockingly unsuitable the material is on a number of levels, it should be withdrawn from schools without delay. Anything less is tacit approval for religious fundamentalism, proselytising and age inappropriate teaching.