For God’s sake, please get out of our schools.
That’s the plea from parents who are taking landmark action against churches indoctrinating their kids. They claim it’s a breach of the Equal Opportunity Act.
“For many of these kids, it’s the first time they experience discrimination,” according to Scott Hedges from the group, Fairness in Religion in Schools.
My first memory of school is one of segregation. Once a week, I was left in an empty classroom because I wasn’t of the right faith.
The practice continues to this day.
In most states, religious instruction is compulsory.
If parents opt out, their children are given nothing to do. This is valuable teaching time.
My girlfriend Lisa was horrified to find her five-year-old’s colouring-in during scripture was on the theme of creationism.
“I wish they were teaching her more useful stuff, but I don’t want to take her out of scripture class because she might be ostracised,” she lamented.
When my seven-year-old started talking about how God made the birds and the bees, I countered with Darwin’s theory of evolution.
“Well Mum, you stick to your theory and I’ll stick to mine’!” he replied defiantly.
In NSW, the former Labor government brought in ethics classes as an alternative to scripture but their future is threatened by a bill introduced into the upper house by the Christian Democrats.
Instead of voting against the bill, the current Liberal government referred it to a parliamentary committee.
And it’s not just conservative governments singing from the same hymn sheet.
While the Howard government brought in the National School Chaplaincy Program, the Rudd government boosted funding to $220 million a year.
Evangelical activists are being paid by the government to convert children to Christianity.
As ACCESS Ministries’ CEO Canon Evonne Paddison said in 2008, “Our goal is to reach every child in Victoria with the transforming love of God. Through Christian Religious Education we aim to reach 80 per cent of primary school children by 2012.”
Scary stuff, especially when you consider many of the school chaplains are unqualified.
A study by the Social Research Centre at Edith Cowan University in 2009 found 72 percent of chaplains had dealt with student mental health issues.
In the words of Voltaire, “Nothing can be more contrary to religion and the clergy than reason and common sense”.
Frankly, I don’t want my child sitting in a room with some strange priest, talking about suicide. That money would be better spent on a child psychologist. Or, incorporating an overview of world religions into the history curriculum.
School is about education, not indoctrination.
The problem lies in our legal system. In 1872, the Victorian Act held that education should be ‘secular’ or ‘religiously neutral’. In the 1950s, a group of clerics pushed through an exemption.
Nationally, we have the ‘principle of state neutrality’, commonly known as the separation of church and state.
Yet governments are still able to fund religious instruction in schools.
Father-of-six Ron Williams is challenging this in the High Court, claiming the school chaplaincy program breaches the Constitution.
The full bench will make its decision early this year.
Meanwhile, Fairness in Religion in Schools is taking its case to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal on March 1.
“The government is violating the law and we want it to stop,” Scott Hedges says.
You can sign up for the FIRIS campaign here.
Finally, a disclaimer.
I’m an atheist; but I’m not anti-religion. I admire those who have a strong faith. But I don’t believe public schools should be used to prostelyse.
Like most parents, I want my children to make up their own minds.
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*Tracey Spicer is a respected journalist who has worked for many years in radio, print and television.
Channel Nine and 10 news presenter and reporter; 2UE and Vega broadcaster; News Ltd. columnist; Sky News anchor …it’s been a dream career for the Brisbane schoolgirl with a passion for news and current affairs.
Tracey is a passionate advocate for issues as diverse as voluntary euthanasia, childhood vaccinations, breastfeeding, better regulation of foreign investment in Australia’s farmland, and curtailed opening hours for pubs and clubs.
She is an Ambassador for World Vision, ActionAid, WWF, the Royal Hospital for Women’s Newborn Care Centre and the Penguin Foundation, Patron of Cancer Council NSW and The National Premmie Foundation, and the face of the Garvan Institute’s research into pancreatic cancer, which killed her beloved mother Marcia 11 years ago.
But Tracey’s favourite job, with her husband, is bringing up two beautiful children – six-year-old Taj and five-year-old Grace. Visit Tracey’s website at www.spicercommunications.biz or follow her on Twitter @spicertracey.