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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But given how shockingly unsuitable the material is on a number of levels, it should be withdrawn from schools without delay.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.

What Parents aren’t told about Connect Religious Lessons: The Vampires of Religious Instruction and the Contest for the Souls of Children

What parents aren’t told about the  #Connect #religiousinstruction lessons – Hunting Little Souls: The Vampires of Religious Instruction – @NewMatilda 21 June 2016

Parents who thought religious instruction was benign have been misled by both a lack of oversight, and the ratcheting up of evangelising in the materials. Most school websites inadvertently mislead parents by reassuring them the RI program mustn’t proselytise.

Parents see only a sanitised version of lesson aims, and since they have no idea of the confronting and proselytising nature of the content, the program fails to satisfy the basic requirements of informed consent.

Lax enrolment procedures ensure a far greater percentage of children attend these classes than are approved. The program is Opt-out rather than Opt-in, and in QLD there’s no Ethics or secular alternative. Secular Public Education advocate Ron Williams says,

On a weekly basis we receive an ongoing stream of complaints from parents who have had their children placed into religious instruction contrary to their clearly stated wishes within the Education Queensland enrolment form.

These appalling circumstances must not be allowed to continue. It is most urgent that religious instruction in Queensland public schools be suspended immediately.

“These books are about vampires”, begins the Connect religious instruction lesson for seven to nine year old children, introducing the well-known “Twilight” series of vampire novels, well known for their blend of eroticism and horror.

Recommended for ages 13 and over, the series follows the trials of Bella Swan, who falls in love with the pale but good-looking vampire, Edward Cullen. It tells of his struggle to resist the strong sexual desire aroused by the scent of Bella’s blood, and his choice to protect her from a coven of evil vampires.

“Some of your older brothers and sisters, or even your parents, may have read these books,” the lesson continues.

The Connect religious instruction (RI) program is produced by the Sydney Anglican group Youthworks, and is widely used in NSW and QLD.

“Who can tell me what they think a vampire is?” the class are asked.

“In these made-up stories about vampires how do you think someone becomes a scary vampire?”

“Accept responses. A vampire bites them and drinks their blood, the person dies and then the person comes to life again but this time they are not a person, they are a vampire”.

The Christian fascination with the vampire myth relates to the inversion of the communion sacrament. The human immortality resulting from drinking the blood of Christ is contrasted with the immortality of drinking human blood and belonging to a fallen, demonic world.

Twilight’s author, Stephenie Meyer uses her Mormon faith to infuse the series with themes of sexual abstinence, evil, and immortality.

 

 (The Connect Lesson on Vampires)

“There aren’t any vampires in the Bible because the Bible is not a made-up book – it is a book containing facts”, the Connect lesson continues.

“But there are some true stories in the Bible about people dying and then coming back to life again and we’re going to look at one now”.

Evidently, the point of the lesson is to emphasize the authority of the Bible. A fundamentalist adherence to the literal truth of scripture is a key element of Connect: “To understand that the Bible is God’s word: that it is historically reliable and still relevant today.”

The program emphasizes the literal truth of familiar Bible stories such as Adam and Eve, and Noah’s Ark. Connect refers to the story of Jesus turning water into wine as: “a true story…Jesus really did this; it wasn’t a magic trick.”

The authors apparently have no scruples with using violent and age inappropriate material to generate interest in the Bible.

Recent media reports have highlighted lessons threatening children they “will die” if they’re selfish, and asking them to roleplay the beheading in the David and Goliath story. Young children are denigrated as “sinners” deserving of punishment, and compared to dirty towels in need of cleansing.

The grisly material stands at odds with the protests of conservative religious groups about violent and pornographic material in video games and movies.

But the gravest concern is the contest for children’s souls – the explicit focus of the Youthworks Connect RI program.

 

(screenshot from Youthworks website)

Youthworks’ own website says that “the discipleship of children, youth and families is at the heart of everything we do.”

Making disciples “is why we exist”, they say.

Queensland RI policy prohibits proselytising, defined as “soliciting a student for a decision to change their religious affiliation”.

Vampires seeking to claim the souls of innocents is a ghastly, nightmarish thought: one that should frighten parents and children alike.

Read more..

 

Parents should worry about religious education materials

Parents should worry about religious education materials – 07 June 2016 The Sydney Morning Herald

Materials provided by faith groups for use in religious instruction in state schools are not approved by Education ...

(Image courtesy The Sydney Morning Herald)

Windsor State School has banned the Connect Religious Instruction (RI) classes following a review by the principal.

The move may have significant ramifications, since the Connect curriculum is widely used for RI in Queensland and New South Wales.

In a letter to parents, principal Matthew Keong explains how the lessons contravene RI policy by attempting to convert children to Christianity.

“Connect’s materials go beyond imparting knowledge of Biblical references, and extend to soliciting children to develop a personal faith in God and Jesus and become a Christian or ‘Kingdom Kid’.”

The review has found the Connect program in breach of the policy that prohibits proselytising, defined as “soliciting a student for a decision to change their religious affiliation”.

“In the teacher’s manuals, the Connect authors remind instructors that most of their audience is not yet Christian, and the whole program appears to be based on that premise of trying to solicit them for a decision to become the kind of Christian prescribed in the materials.”

The Facebook page of Queensland Parents for Secular State Schools (QPSSS) has published various other Connect lessons, highlighting the apparent aim of converting non-Christian schoolchildren.

Kids are invited to become a “Kingdom Kid”, in Connects C2 lower primary lesson:

“Maybe you’re not a Kingdom Kid yet. If you would like to live God’s way and follow Jesus, we can pray a prayer right now. I am going to say the words of the prayer first so you can hear what the prayer is about. If you agree with this prayer, when I pray it the second time in parts, think the words in your head after me. If you don’t want to pray this prayer with me, just sit quietly with your eyes closed so that you are not disrupting those who would like to say it. This is the prayer I will be praying.

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.”

Connects C2 upper primary lesson emphasizes the choice children need to make:

“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?”

The program is full of entreaties to join the faith. Connects C1, lesson 1:

“I want you to think about Jesus who is the King and think about whether you would like to be in his Kingdom forever.”

Connects C1, lesson 2:

“In other words, it is only through Jesus that we can be clean before God and be friends with him forever.

I want you to consider what you think about Jesus’ miracle. Do you want to put your faith in Jesus?”

Instructors are encouraged to link children to “church-run children’s and youth activities”.

The offer to “experience the Christian community and learn more about the Christian faith” outside of school, could also breach RI’s policy prohibiting proselytising.

According to the Education Act, State schools must make up to one hour of curriculum time a week available for religious instruction.

The program is optional, requiring written parental approval.

The Connect material is available for purchase online, but is not normally offered to parents prior to enrolment.

According to Alison Courtice of QPSSS, schools are failing to provide parents with sufficient information to satisfy the principle of informed consent.

Mr Keong also expresses concern over a lack of scrutiny over faith based programs.

“It has recently come to my attention, contrary to my previous understanding, none of the programs used in Religious Instruction (RI) provided by any faith groups are approved or endorsed by the Department of Education and Training (DET).”

The Connect material has also been the subject of outrage following its David and Goliath lesson, where students were asked to roleplay a beheading.

DET has previously advised parents with concerns over RI to contact their school principal.

The complete failure to apply even the most rudimentary controls should give parents good reason to worry.

It’s time for an inquiry into the contents of religious instruction in Qld schools

It’s time for an inquiry into the contents of # religious instruction in # Qld schools

The horrifying religious instruction classes planned for Qld schools – Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Brisbane Times 20 April 2016.

Following publication of this article, Youthworks has withdrawn the class on David and Goliath, as per Buzzfeed: This Christian School Program Was Teaching “Beheading Lessons”

The immediate withdrawal of the program highlights how obviously inappropriate it is. It also raises a red flag – how many other lessons are similarly barbaric, age inappropriate or overtly evangelical?

The Qld Department of Education and Training has advised “Principals can suspend program delivery until any issues are resolved”.

According to the Daily Mail Australia, A Department of Education and Training spokesman said:

‘If parents of participating students have concerns with the content or delivery of religious instructions (RI), they are encouraged to raise this with their school principal.

‘RI programs are provided by a religious denomination or society (known as a faith group), not the Department of Education and Training,’ the spokesperson said.

‘RI is only to be provided to students from Year 1 in state primary, secondary and special schools whose parents have nominated the faith group on enrolment, or to students whose parents have given written permission for their child to attend.

‘Parents can change their preference for their child to participate in RI or other instruction at any time by notifying the school in writing. Principals can suspend program delivery until any issues are resolved.’

This creates a new and impractical onus on each school principal to review religious instruction content. If this content is available for one hour per week, in all Queensland schools, then DET should be monitoring it. It’s part of our school education system.

Visit the Queensland Parents for Secular State Schools facebook page for more information.

The moral of the lesson is to teach students to 'recognise that it was God who defeated the Philistines through David' and 'appreciate that God saves his people in unexpected ways' (stock image)

(image courtesy Daily Mail Australia)

The Church and its weakening grip over Telstra and taxes

The Church and its weakening grip over Telstra and taxes – ABC’s The Drum 14 April 2016

News that Telstra has apparently bowed to pressure from the Catholic Church and backed away from public support for marriage equality comes at a time many Australians are reconsidering the role of religion in our society.

Telstra and other corporations had lent their logos to a full page ad run by Marriage Equality Australia in May last year.

The Archdiocese of Sydney wrote to these corporations “with grave concern” about the marriage equality campaign, highlighting how the Catholic Church is “a significant user of goods and services from many corporations”.

Telstra quietly capitulated, saying it has “no further plans to figure prominently in the wider public debate”. According to the Australian, a “person familiar with the company’s decision” said Telstra did not want to “risk its commercial relationship with the church”.

Using its buying power to effectively threaten a boycott is a high handed and cynical move on the part of the Church. Perhaps this sort of behaviour helps us to understand why antipathy towards organised religion seems to be increasing in Australia.

Nearly two in three Australians think tax breaks for advancing religion should go, according to two recent surveys.

According to a new poll by Ipsos, 64 per cent of Australians favour scrapping tax free status for churches and basic religious groups. Less than 20 per cent said tax breaks should remain, and 16.5 per cent were unsure.

More than half (55.1 per cent) of those surveyed disagreed that advancing religion is of public benefit. Only 20.7 per cent said they agreed, with a further 24.2 per cent saying advancing religion may be of public benefit.

The results provide a stunning correlation with last week’s Essential Report, where 64 per cent of those surveyed disapprove of the tax free status of religious groups. Significantly, 39 per cent “strongly disapprove”. Disapproval was consistent across all major parties, with the Liberal/National Party voters recording 63 per cent, and those aged 55 years and over at 73 per cent.

If antipathy to religion and its special treatment continues to grow, the pressure on governments to respond accordingly will eventually become irresistible.

Public opinion has undergone a seismic shift. Rather than ask why remove tax free status, Australians are now asking, “Why not?” The thought that only one in five Australians think advancing religion is beneficial to the public must be deeply troubling for religious advocates.

read more

End The Safe Schools Hysteria, Start A Parliamentary Enquiry Into Religious Instruction

End The Safe Schools Hysteria, Start A Parliamentary Enquiry Into Religious Instruction

A life size Noah's Ark, built in the Netherlands and now operating as a tourist attraction. (IMAGE: bert knottenbeld, Flickr)

A life size Noah’s Ark, built in the Netherlands and now operating as a tourist attraction. (IMAGE: bert knottenbeld, Flickr, courtesy New Matilda)

 

Just over a month since the kids went back to school, and it’s the easily distracted adults having conniptions over the curriculum. Fact-resistant back of the class blowhards, such as George Christensen, demand a parliamentary enquiry into the Safe Schools anti-bullying program.

Outrage has been manufactured out of the program’s allegedly ideological agenda – that is, ideas and beliefs which are contested. The schoolyard is once again the battleground of our ongoing culture war.

Meanwhile religious instruction (RI) classes commenced again. These involve faith-based groups presenting the ideas and beliefs of their religion. That these involve contested ideas and beliefs is demonstrable by the large numbers of parents opting out their children.

If there’s a parliamentary enquiry into Safe Schools, by the same irrevocable logic, there must be one into religious instruction.

It’s undesirable to divide classes so that some receive RI and some do other non-curricular activities. Consider the absurdity of an “overcrowded” curriculum containing countless hours of squandered class time due to contested beliefs.

Given religious instruction isn’t acceptable to all, we should question what its benefits are.

According to the Queensland Government policy statement, RI encourages “students to develop as a whole person, in particular, in beliefs, values and attitudes”.

Notwithstanding the idiotic and discriminatory claim that we must entertain religious ideas to be “whole” persons, the very next statement is startlingly at odds with it: “State schools respect the background and beliefs of all students and staff by not promoting, or being perceived as promoting, any particular set of beliefs in preference to another”.

Well may we wonder what theological gymnastics are employed to help students develop beliefs, without promoting any beliefs.

How many parents know what their child is taught in RI? Despite the requirement to provide parents with detailed information, most schools leave parents in the dark.

Most are Christian classes using teaching materials developed by evangelical Christian groups, promoting a “sin and salvation” message.

The Year 6 “BIG QUESTIONS” program from the Connect Bible based curriculum advises instructors:

Many students will have no awareness that they stand guilty before God… They will probably have little understanding of just how seriously God takes sin and how greatly they, personally, have offended him.

I’ve no doubt many parents, Christians included, would have serious reservations about telling their children they’ve “personally” offended God.

It may be helpful to refer them to the story of Noah and how seriously God dealt with the sinfulness of the world then.

Students are encouraged to learn that the Bible is God’s word: that it is historically reliable and still relevant today.

Note the befuddling of beliefs and facts happening before our children’s eyes.

Is the preposterous story of Noah’s Ark “historically reliable”? Paraphrasing biologist Richard Dawkins: how did those marsupials hop from Mt. Ararat en masse, and settle exclusively in Australia leaving no trace anywhere else?

Read more here…

Religious Instruction in Queensland schools is discriminatory

Religious Instruction in Queensland schools is discriminatoryBrisbane Times 14/03/16

When I found out my eight-year-old had been taught at school that there’s no God, I was shocked.

Well, actually, it’s the opposite: I’m an atheist and in Religious Instruction, my son was taught that God exists, and his saviour is Jesus.

Religious Instruction has no place in Queensland schools, argues Hugh Harris.
Religious Instruction has no place in Queensland schools, argues Hugh Harris. (photo: courtesy The Brisbane Times)

This admittedly contrived example illustrates why religious instruction is inherently discriminatory.

Considering we’d previously opted out our son from the program, I was appalled when he still attended the first class of the year. How vigilant must I be?

Read the rest here.

John Howard’s Christian Right Feels Silenced, And They’re Telling Anyone Who’ll Listen

John Howard’s Christian Right Feels Silenced, And They’re Telling Anyone Who’ll Listen – New Matilda 03/01/2016

A screengrab of former Australian Prime Minister John Howard, appearing on Channel 9's 60 minutes program in 2012.

“People are too scared to speak”, claims ex-Prime Minister John Howard amidst a mood of growing resentment towards the Coalition’s Christian Right. Howard has called out a “minority fundamentalism” where progressives attempt to silence others. By example, he cites the branding of those who oppose gay marriage as homophobes, and the controversy over the Tasmanian anti-marriage equality booklet.

We see this phenomenon regularly – the pre-emptive branding of an opponent’s view by some type of slur. But this applies to all sides of politics. Cory Bernardi heckled Bill Shorten calling him “a fraud”. Shorten responded in kind, dubbing him a “homophobe”. But then, a doe-eyed Bernardi complained that “it’s disappointing someone seeking to be PM resorts to name calling”.

Tut-tut – glass houses and all that.

Read more…

Slurs Are A Poor Counterfeit For Reason

Slurs Are A Poor Counterfeit For Reason – The Huffington Post 25/02/16

CORY BERNARDI

(image courtesy The Huffington Post Australia)

In the current charged atmosphere fuelled by cultural issues such as same-sex marriage, it’s unsurprising to see some erecting invisible force-fields around their beliefs. Senator Cory Bernardi claimed the Safe Schools anti-bullying campaign attempted “to indoctrinate kids with Marxist cultural relativism”.

Bill Shorten branded Bernardi a homophobe. Slurs are a poor counterfeit for reason, as are conspiracy theories. As we’ll see, relativism is a charge that likes it both ways.

Bernardi described Shortens jibe as “a really sad indictment on the modern character of political debate”. Whilst true, this is not coming from the saviour of reason.“Bestiality” and “Burqas” are words inversely associated with that comparison. When he joined the Coalition front bench as a comparative young man, some feared his star had risen too soon — he’d become an anachronism before his time.

Read more

Can Australian Catholicism Save Itself From Its Ultra-Conservative Forces?

New Matilda 22 February 2016 – Can Australian Catholicism Save Itself From Its Ultra-Conservative Forces? (images courtesy New Matilda)

(IMAGE: paul bica, Flickr).

The leaked allegations of child abuse against Cardinal George Pell aren’t surprising, nor should they particularly diminish anyone’s opinion of him. Simply, there’s no room below rock-bottom. No need then for a new Tim Minchin song, or any reappraisal at all. Whether they have basis in fact remains to be seen.

The only certainty is that, regardless of the conclusion of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse, or the outcome of police investigations, Pell will never face a punishment commensurate with his failures.

This is just the latest in a series of recent public relations disasters for the Catholic Church. The aftershocks will reverberate for some time. But amidst these ructions, Australian Catholicism might find a ray of hope in casting out some of its more vocal and acidulous conservative colleagues. A more progressive and non-partisan church leadership would be a good thing – and dare I say, one more in line with the Christian values espoused by Jesus.

Pell cited health grounds to avoid appearing in person for the hearings of the Royal Commission. Given the year-long investigation into multiple allegations of abuse against him by the Victoria Police SANO taskforce, many will conclude he had other reasons for refusing to come. Pell cannot be compelled to answer questions whilst he remains in Rome.

It’s not the first time allegations of sexual abuse have been levelled at Pell. In 2002, a church-inquiry found insufficient evidence to uphold the charge Pell molested a boy on a Phillip Island holiday camp in the early 1960’s. In contrast to Pell’s claim that he was “exonerated”, the Southwell inquiry concluded the testimony of both Pell and his accuser were credible, but there was insufficient cause to establish the allegation.

Having affixed his wagon to conservative forces, Pell’s own troubles exacerbate the steady worsening of community sentiment towards conservative Christianity. Read more here.

(IMAGE: Jody Claborn, Flickr)
(IMAGE: Jody Claborn, Flickr)