13 November 2010
Embattled Victorian Education Minister Bronwyn Pike today came under fire from another direction – she is charged with backing forced religious instruction in state schools.
The Rationalist Society says that Ms Pike, who is fighting for her political life in the seat of Melbourne, has failed to respond to repeated requests to discuss the issue, which recently erupted into a public controversy.
She is reported to have rejected a proposal to allow humanism to be taught in primary schools during time allocated for Special Religious Instruction.
The Humanist Society of Victoria plans a legal challenge because the system indirectly discriminates against non-religious children, causing hurt, humiliation, pain and suffering when they opt out of these Religious Instruction classes.
Now the Rationalist Society says the Victorian Government is hiding behind a legislative sleight-of-hand that not only allows but forces religious indoctrination on children as young as four.
Rationalist Society President Ian Robinson said that most Victorian parents would not know that school principals are required by the Education Department to arrange for “Special Religious Instruction” in school hours.
“This is not education about religion but instruction by religious groups, based on their distinctive religious tenets and beliefs,” he said.
“On the one hand the Education Act asserts that ‘education should be secular and not promote any particular religious practice, denomination or sect’. But by allowing Special Religious Instruction, it licences religious organisations to instruct young children in their ‘distinctive religious tenets and beliefs’.
“If that’s not promoting a particular religious practice, I don’t know what is” Mr Robinson said.
The Rationalist Society says the Education Act is blatantly self-contradictory and should be changed.
“Most reasonable people would agree that education about religion is important and should be part of the school curriculum. In fact the Rationalist Society would argue that true freedom of religious belief requires such education because freedom implies informed choice.”
Mr Robinson said those not familiar with the range of different religious and ethical traditions cannot be truly free to choose their belief system. The Education Act allows for such general religious education, but the Education Department does nothing to encourage it.
“Instead, the Department under Minister Pike goes to great lengths to ensure children are exposed to evangelism and indoctrination. School principals are required to send parents a form that refers to an ‘authorised’ and ‘agreed’ syllabus called `Religion for Life’. While the form asks for parental approval, the small print at the bottom says ‘If a response is not received within 14 days, your child will receive Special Religious Instruction in accordance with ACCESS Ministries agreed Christian syllabus’.
“In other words, if parents say nothing, their kids are exposed as a matter of course. Another sneaky sleight-of-hand.”
Mr Robinson said parents need to know what this syllabus actually contains. “ACCESS Ministries say it is ‘based on the Bible’ and teaches ‘biblical truths’ like the fact (sic) that God made the world, that we can communicate with God through speaking, and that Jesus has authority over the natural world. This is not education, it’s indoctrination.
“We are worried about increasingly aggressive, well-funded, politically savvy religious organisations pressuring the Government for more, and more secure, access to young minds. We have been urging the Government to ensure education in Victoria remains genuinely secular. But we’ve got little response other than the usual bureaucratic brush off.
“At this election time, parents should be asking Minister Pike whether she genuinely believes in secular education and will promise to take action to defend it.”
For more information contact Ian Robinson on 0407 240 024.