We have known for some time that state schools, throughout Australia, have been breaching Education Department guidelines in respect to religious education (i.e. instruction) classes and that politicians and bureaucrats have shown little interest in policing this area.
I regularly receive emails from irate parents who have found that, having opted their child out of RE, their wishes have been ignored – usually discovered when their child comes home and starts spouting Scripture, or worrying that her non-church-going parents are destined to burn in hell.
Today, comes a story from the Daily Telegraph:
Parents at three schools on the [NSW] South Coast complained after their children were forced to listen in on religious lessons, despite having opted out of the classes.
The Department of Education and Training started investigating after the Ulladulla High School’s final newsletter last year said that students in years 7 and 8 “will sit in a section of the classroom” where scripture was taught, “so minimal supervision can take place safely”.
The newsletter also said students could opt out of actively taking part in the lessons only in the first few weeks of the new school year.
After objections from some parents, the department said it would contact the schools to ensure parents and students were aware of the policy.
… Nowra High School principal Wayne Pryce said yesterday students who opted out still sat in on the lessons because there wasn’t “enough staff for supervision”.
Batemans Bay High School has had an arrangement for several years whereby non-religious students remained in the classroom while scripture was being taught.
The Australian Secular Lobby said that, given the ease with which the schools had breached NSW policy, the department should notify all schools of their obligations.”
Now, you might consider it possible that one principal was unaware of Education Department guidelines, but three? And the article notes that this arrangement was put in place after all three consulted together. Really? And not one said, “Ummm, guys, I don’t think we’re allowed to do that – maybe we should check with the Department.” ?
So, call me suspicious, but I was already thinking that the real reason that parents’ rights were completely disregarded in this matter was less administrative (lack of available supervision) and more theological (convert the little heathen blighters against their parents’ will). And it’s not just non-religious kids we’re talking about here. I’d be willing to bet there are kids from non-Christian religions in these schools being forced to sit in on Christian religious education classes as well. Let’s put aside the assault on secularism for a moment – this is outright Christian imperialism.
Don’t believe me? Check this out. Imagine if you were the parent of the Muslim child encouraged to act against her parent’s wishes and faith in this video.
And then someone sent me this – from SRE teachers in the same school district (Illawarra).
“Pray for year 8 & 9 classes today, especially for the students who have not attended SRE before and who will be bringing their own work to do in class. Pray that they will be quiet and that they will hear God’s message as Bernie teaches the other students. Pray for Holy Spirit annointing, power and authority on Bernie.” Link
Being a born cynic (or should that be born-again cynic) , I’m expecting this post to be ‘disappeared’ once they realize that what they’re doing proves that opted out students are being targeted for conversion. In fact, being a born cynic, I’ve taken a screenshot of the page for posterity. (Click to enlarge) (My friend Dan has ensured that the rest of the site is similarly enshrined.)
Click to enlarge
Update: As predicted, all the ‘prayers’ on this website have been deleted – I’ll take that as an admission of guilt. If they had said nothing wrong, why delete them? But don’t worry boys, if you decide you want to put them back, we have copies. And if there’s any media, or parents with lawsuits in mind who’d like copies, we’re willing to share. 😉
Non-religious and non-Christian parents with children in NSW State Schools should be rightly horrified to hear that when they send their children to (supposedly) secular state schools, they are being strategically targeted by evangelistic Christian zealots. Not only that, the SRE teachers are canvassing to have specifically Christian teachers appointed to the school to further influence your children. Far-fetched? Well, they’ve already managed to have opted-out kids put into their RE class, why wouldn’t a sympathetic principal also agree to practice affirmative action in employing good Christian teachers?
“Praise for the witness of Christian staff, students and volunteers this year. Pray for the appointment of Christian staff for 2011” Link
“Pray for all SRE classes next year, especially year 9 classes, as students will not be allowed to have a free period instead of Scripture. Those students who have notes to exempt them from SRE will have to bring homework or other school work to do in class.” [Emphasis added.] Link
“Praise for God’s ongoing ministry to many non-Christian youth at Ulladulla High School.” [Emphasis added] Link
“Pray especially this week for parents NOT to sign notes excusing their children from
Scripture lessons. Pray for the Holy Spirit’s control over these notes.” Link
And once they have your kids in their class, they’re not above scaring the bejeezus into them:
“Pray for Year 9 students as they talk about “Life After Life”. Bernie will use confronting material from “Ninety Minutes in Heaven” and “Raised from the Dead”. [Emphasis added] Link
“Continue to pray for year 9 as they discuss “Life After Life”. This week they will hear about an atheist’s death experience of hell.” Link
It’s so easy to be complacent. I remember RE classes, both at state school and at the Presbyterian and Methodist private school I attended. We had either a doddering old Anglican minister who’d drone on a bit while we doodled on our notebooks, or a deacon who’d give us some Bible passages to read and consider. There was no sense whatsoever of being evangelised. But, things are different now and parents have to realize that what their kids are receiving in state schools is almost certainly not religious education, but religious instruction. They are not being told about religion, they are being told to be religious – and not just religious, but fundamentalist, Bible literalist, happy-clapping, talkin’-in-tongues, fallin’-to-the-floor Christians.
And it’s not just happening in New South Wales. A Queensland friend told me recently that a child at her school whose father has terminal cancer was told by the school chaplain that her father would burn in hell when he died if he didn’t accept Jesus as his personal saviour.
Another Queensland parent discovered that his infant daughter had been included in RE classes against his will when he took her to feed the ducks in the park.
“Daddy! You’re going to go to hell!”
“For feeding the body of Christ to the ducks!”
Parents, please be vigilant. If you’ve opted your child out of RE, make sure your wishes are being complied with. Don’t allow the school to use emotional blackmail to coerce you into changing your mind. Common excuses are “We don’t have anyone to supervise her …”, “You’re causing a lot of trouble for the teachers,” and “All the other kids go to RE – you’re singling your child out and that can be very emotionally damaging for him.”
Also remember, that if your school has a chaplain you should have been consulted. If you haven’t been consulted, you have a right to see the application documents sent to the government asking for funding. If they say that parents were consulted and agreed, you need to make a noise – or contact the Australian Secular Lobby to make a noise for you.
If you are having problems with the unwelcome intrusion of religion into your child’s state school, please contact the Australian Secular Lobby for help and advice. At the very least, they can log your concerns which helps to combat the inevitable response from Education Departments that this problem ‘isn’t widespread’. We know it is!
In the meantime, whether or not you’re in New South Wales, and whether or not you’re a parent, please consider writing to the NSW Premier, the Education Minister and the Department of Education and Training with your thoughts on the situation in the Illawarra schools mentioned in the Daily Telegraph article (and the additional information supplied on this blog). Contact details are as follows:
- email@example.com (NSW Premier)
- firstname.lastname@example.org (Minister for Education and Training)
- email@example.com (NSW Department of Education and Training)
Again, if you have your own story to tell, please contact the Australian Secular Lobby. Your anonymity can be preserved if you fear your child will be victimised due to a complaint.
If you feel strongly that the government should not be funding Christian chaplains in Australian state schools, (a scheme to which nearly half a billion dollars has either been spent or committed), please consider making a donation to the High Court Challenge against the National School Chaplaincy Program. This is a serious case which will be heard before the High Court later this year, possibly in May. More details are available on the website.
And, finally, when it comes time to complete your 2011 Census, if you are no longer a practicing Christian, please mark ‘No Religion’ on the form for yourself and your children. Having accurate statistics of those who aren’t practicing Christians will help secular organizations to argue against the intrusion of religion into our government, educational and other public institutions.
This story just keeps getting worse. A relative of one of the opted out students at Ulladulla writes on the Victorian Humanists’ website:
“A relative of mine attends Ulladulla High School. Yesterday she (a non-SRE) student was placed in a courtyard and told they must sit (and not move from) an old BBQ table. The table was damp and as is typical for such a design, had planks well spaced so it is most uncomfortable to sit for the entire period. Supervision was provided by a person in the neighbouring classroom. This person was not a qualified teacher but the local pastor running his scripture class. He left the door wide open so all the non-SRE students could enjoy his prosleytizing.
So, despite all the fuss, secular students are still having to listen to religious ranting in their secular schools. This is discrimination.”
I understand this person was Bernie Hughes, the same person mentioned (above) in prayers for the conversion of opted out students. Seems Bernie hasn’t learned yet that this isn’t going to go away. Keep the door closed, Bernie – and for your own good, don’t agree to supervise opted out students – it’s not doing your cause any good.
Another Ulladulla State High School contact wrote to me earlier in the week:
” … today we are all back to Square 1 it seems. The school continues to claim it is working on changing its policy towards non-SRE students and that it has implemented changes and the Big Wigs in the NSW Education Dept (David Ashford and Maria Grey- Pearce) claim Ulladulla High School has fallen into line with the NSW policies and Act.
However in actuality, today’s non-SRE students ended up in a deserted derelict area of the school in the rain for non-SRE (this is the apparently newly arranged area) and when they went searching for a teacher (these are Yr 7 kids who have only been at High school for 6 days – plus a swimming carnival) they ended up being invited back into the SRE room to partake in the Scripture lesson.
When they protested that they shouldn’t be there, they were sent to the Deputy Principal who assumed they were there for punishment (and made some comment to the effect that “good that they weren’t” – initial presumption being that they were all of course in trouble for something). He then led them to a deserted stairwell in the school for them to sit for the period. He came back 10 mins later to check the roll and then wasn’t seen again for the remaining 40 mins.
The Yr 7 girls were not at all happy being in a deserted area of the school between demountables and with no supervision. The school is in the midst of major building work, it is heavily treed and has many dark isolated areas. ”
Not good enough!
South Coast Public School Kids Unable to Opt Out of Scripture Classes – ABC Illawarra
Religiously follow the rules, or catch the church in bed with state – Richard Ackland, Sydney Morning Herald
I was shell shocked to read this in the herald today. I have just taken part in the 2 days training for primary ethics teachers. I am now comfortable with the curriculum I will be teaching BATEMANS BAY primary school, hopefully starting in week 4.
I think I’m actually offended by this. Gob-smacked.
Oh, and I forgot to mention that perhaps it wasn’t the principles’ primary intention to convert the children (It could be, but I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt). I certainly think the SRE teachers will take advantage of this. The so called “little heathen blighters” have been handed to them on a plater
Heidi, I’d be less skeptical if three principals hadn’t conspired together to put non-RE kids into the back of the RE class despite it being clearly against department guidelines.
I hope you’ll pass on this information through your own networks.
And congratulations and thanks for becoming an ethics teacher!
I can only wonder at what outrage their would be if “Christian” children were forced to listen to Muslims Buddhists Atheists or Pastafarians preach their messages in state schools.
It seems that this is far more about Christian indoctrination than religious education.
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This doesn’t surprise me at all.
I went to a NSW state school where the headmaster and his deputy were pretty forthright about their Christian beliefs and would excuse no one from scripture. This was repeated in high school with another pair of masters.
When they introduced scripture “seminars” we had to be exposed to all the local small-town ministers in one go to get the full spectrum of nuttiness. This included a 20 minute rant from the Lutheran pastor on how we’re all going to hell.
Fred Nile was also brought in annually to dispense his political views to the school. There was no escape. You were gagged for attempting to express any other view. It was definitely evangelical religious instruction.
This situation is absolutely disgraceful. I went to catholic school in the 60s and 70s, and got less hellfire and brimstone than these poor kids now! And I was taught evolution by nuns.
The ‘inch’ these evangelists have been given has stretched into a mile, and should be taken back pronto.
I’m disgusted. Most especially by the notion of talking to 14 year old children about “an atheist’s death experience of hell”. Twisted. Hideous. >_<
If you go into the UCEFinc blog http://ucefinc.blogspot.com/
you will find without doubt (maybe under section titled Prayers) that the intention behind the non-SRE being seated at the back of the SRE classes is as per their prayer something to the effect that “we pray that the non-SRE students seated at the back of the SRE classes are quiet so that the word of the Holy Spirit can be heard by them”. I think if you look at this prayer you will find it dated before school resumed this year, so the religious bigots knew exactly what they had in mind implementing this policy.
It was actually a slightly different (and more blatant) that the Bernie one you stated above. I went all over the site looking for stuff that’s why I can’t remember exactly where it was (but I think it was under Prayers at the top).
Oh yes, the thin end of the wedge.
Keneally is a fool not to have stomped on this today.
A fire-and-brimstone local issue will lose her votes and cement her failure in the Ides of March.
The NSW Ed department flunky really sounded ‘convincing’ when she spoke about a lack of rooms, didn’t she?
Whatever happened to the line about ‘there are many rooms in my fathers house’?
A timely opinion piece from Richard Ackland: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/religiously-follow-the-rules-or-catch-church-in-bed-with-state-20110203-1afbf.html
Dan here as mentioned in the article. If anyone wants the entire site on powerpoint just send me an email. Cheers.
Same happened to my daughter and dozens of other parents at public schools on the Sunshine Coast and, of course, to Ron Williams kids at public school in Tppwoomba.
The thing about supervision being unavailable is bullshit. What, did all the schools’ regular teachers go home during scripture class? Bullshit.
My daughter’s school had a staff prayer group that ran the admin. They should be prosecuted for putting kids in these classes without being opted in, and for ignoring or playing with parent requests to get them out. I am sure they must be breaking duty of care, as well as disobeying the policies.
My son is at Bomaderry and I don’t really fault the DET on this. We got called by the DET and they apologised to us and apparently the principal had lied to the DET saying that parents that opt out had the option to go to another class. I think the DET is going to cane a lot of bottoms. Interestingly, SECET is being very quiet on this. I’m sure that they are playing the persecution card.
He was also on ABC radio this morning and it was heartening that after one caller (an ex-scripture teacher) said that it was probably all my son’s fault, all other callers jumped to my sons defence.
It’s great to see the parents involved in this commenting. I’d love to see this incident properly documented and logged. So, can I ask any parent who’s involved in this incident, or has experienced similar problems, to please contact the Australian Secular Lobby with their story. They’re at firstname.lastname@example.org .
You’re anonymity can be preserved, but it’s important that your stories are recorded so that the ASL can fight against this kind of thing happening in the future.
Just wanted to repost that i have the entire website screenshots and it may come in useful to someone. Email me at email@example.com if you want a copy.
It looks like the prayers have disappeared from the site. Good that you hqve stored them.
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My daughter goes to Nowra High School. When I first heard about this issue, I asked her what was going on. She confirmed to me that they were having to sit in the back of religion class, after I had opted out (what a crock…it should be OPT IN not out). I told her to ask her teacher what was going to go on in future, considering Department policy was being breached by making students attend.
She was given detention for questioning the policy. I am infuriated.
Thank you for commenting and keeping us up to date. Please let other parents know they are welcome to comment here. It’s certainly outrageous. The school owes your daughter an apology.
I’m told the Education Department director responsible for this area is David Ashton. You can contact him on 02 4475-3300. At Ulladulla (apparently) the principal apologised to the P&C and promised that opted out children would be properly supervised in future. That’s the story from the Department at least. Ulladulla parents may have another story …. If you haven’t yet contact the Australian Secular Lobby, may I strongly suggest you do so as they are helping and advising parents involved in these incidents.
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