Tomorrow, Fairness in Religions in Schools (FIRIS) will be having an official launch of an anti-SRE billboard in my old neighbourhood of Liverpool. Through this billboard, which you can see above, FIRIS is hoping to illuminate parents to the fact that Christians are teaching about the Christian notion of sin in Christian SRE. Apparently, a shocking concept.

The launch will have the usual suspects with FIRIS’s NSW representatives joined by John Kaye, the Greens education spokesman. FIRIS’ intention is to create media publicity so that they can attempt to gain momentum in their agenda for the utter abolishment of SRE from schools in NSW. Mirroring the actions they’ve carried out in Victoria, to some success.

Yet, the billboard itself isn’t that problematic, in fact its actually advantageous for Christians, but I’ll touch on that later. Rather, the problem is the rhetoric and methods that FIRIS continues to use. Whilst they initially claimed only wanting transparency about what is being taught in SRE as well as a structured opt-in proccess, they have proven time and time again that they are not open for constructive discussion around these issues. Instead, as I’ve mentioned before, they only desire to reach their end game and they know that entering into respectful dialogue will not achieve this. They have prefered the avenue of attempting to whip up anti-religious furor by taking somewhat innocuous facts (Christians teaching children about what it means to be a Christian in classes allotted for that very purpose), and portraying this activity in a way which attempts to make it appear horrific.

In today’s Sydney Morning Herald article, labelled ‘Parents push back against religion in public schools‘, we see these very same tactics and rhetoric once again. (Although, I think the article would be more aptly titled ‘Predominately victorian lobby group pushes back against religion in public schools in NSW’.)

As FIRIS have made the same statements again and again through the airtime they’ve been granted, I thought it might be helpful to summarise and respond to their five most common claims (not in any order).

  1. Christians are teaching about “sin, sexuality, abortion, suicide, female submission and homosexuality[1]FIRIS Facebook Post, 10 August, 2015 https://www.facebook.com/secularschools/photos/a.163420050386530.38683.156994147695787/935619726499888/ in SRE.

Children are taught the biblical positions on things ranging from a human’s relationship with God, sin, what it means to follow Jesus, and so forth. All of these things are foundational truths about Christianity, and it should be obvious that these things would be taught in a class specifically set aside by law[2]Legal protection is extended to SRE under section 32 (s32) of the Education Act 1990 for the purpose of teaching these very things. Otherwise, what else would be taught? If you strip these elements from class, then you are no longer giving instruction on Christianity — you’re teaching something else completely.

  1. SRE Instructors are being trained by someone who “states” homosexuality is a sin[3]‘Minister reverses ban on “slut-shaming” and “anti-gay” school books’, Mamamia, 24 May, 2015 http://www.mamamia.com.au/news/religion-in-schools/#eDrEo8Q1ILiFii4q.99 http://www.mamamia.com.au/news/religion-in-schools/

And? Seriously, your point is? FIRIS have lobbed the claim that SRE instructors, trained under Youthworks, are being exposed to the teachings of the qualified sexologist, Patricia Weerakoon. When FIRIS first rallied to get her book ‘Teen Sex By The Book’ banned from use in SRE, it became soon apparent that it was never on one of the SRE curriculums in the first place, at least not in Sydney.[4]There were rumours that the book was used in a small independent SRE provider outside of Sydney, but I never found evidence relating to this.

Despite Patricia stating that ‘Teen Sex by the Book’ “never portrayed same-sex attraction as a sin[5]‘Scripture classes: Calls for crackdown on public schools’, Sydney Morning Herald, 6 May, 2015 http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/scripture-classes-calls-for-crackdown-on-public-schools-20150505-ggu7a1.html, FIRIS have gone after “Peter Jensen in a Sari[6]‘Weerakoon: Sweet or Sari?’, FIRIS, 7 May, 2015 – Archived at: http://thinkingofgod.org/wp-content/uploads/documents/WeerakoonSweetorSari-FIRIS.pdf, further arguing that even if SRE teachers weren’t using her book as a resource, they are still being trained by her in the seminars that Youthworks operate.

Whilst this is true, this boggles the mind because the things that Patricia states in these seminars is nothing short of an accepted historic teaching within Christendom. If you’re going to pick out that SRE instructors are learning from Patricia Weerakoon on these things, then you might as well cut to the chase and say that, shock, SRE instructors are learning about things from the Bible itself.

  1. Christians have no right running religious instruction in schools

Religious instruction in school effectively started from the beginning of public schools in Australia, which were established by the Anglicans and Catholics. Thus, religious instruction was seen as being a normal part of education, this was something which was carried on with the establishment of government schools in the late 19th century, and is protected today in NSW under current legislation.

FIRIS’s desire for the removal of SRE is because they see SRE as being part of an archaic legacy, something which no longer belongs in schools. The problem is that by the removal of SRE, this would in fact infringe on the rights of parents who do actually want their children to attend SRE. Yet, FIRIS would rather infringe on the rights of these parents in order to have their agenda achieved, something which goes against their supposed ethos of caring about the ‘rights of the parents’[7]Per reference 3 above.. The only parents that FIRIS really cares about apparently, are those parents who share in their aim of the removal of SRE.

  1. Opt-in forms need to be changed and further clarified[8]‘Parents push back against religion in public schools’, Sydney Morning Herald, 10 August, 2015 http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/parents-push-back-against-religion-in-public-schools-20150807-gitqx7.html.

This is something which I actually somewhat agree, the old forms needed be updated and further clarified. Within NSW, a child is opted in, if the parent lists a particular religion on the enrollment form. Of course, one could argue that if someone is placing their religion down, then it would be a logical following that they would want their children also instructed in their religion, unless of course, they’re actually not of that religion in the first place (e.g. nominal).

However regardless, I think there needs to be a more effective opt-in process which is clear and concise for parents so that they know what they’re signing their children up. Yet it must be stated that SRE is optional and as such the onus is equally on the parent to ensure that they know what they’re signing their children up to as well as knowing what the actual religion is that they’ve identified the children as following.

That said, I believe the new form which is being developed will suffice as it clearly demonstrates that SRE is optional.

  1. Parents deserve to know what their children are taught[9]Per reference 1 above

FIRIS have longed claim that Parents have no idea what their children are really being taught in SRE. That children are taught about the necessity of Jesus and their own sin “without the knowledge of their parents[10]Per reference 8 above. There’s several problems with FIRIS’ argument — the first is that if a parent indicates a religion on the enrollment form, then they should be aware of what that religion teaches.

More so, the beliefs of Christianity are quite apparent in Australian society, which was founded on Judeo-Christian principles in the first place! That Christians believe in sin and the need to follow Jesus is something that is referenced constantly within pop culture. That parents would be simply unaware of any of this, whilst putting down ‘Christian’ as the religion of their children is incredulous.

As far as I’m aware, it is very easy to find out what Christians believe, and subsequently, what would be taught in a curriculum designed to teach Christian children about what it means to be Christian. Yet, ultimately if a Parent would like to know more, then churches and christians would be more than happy to talk to them about what it means to be a Christian. Please, send them our way!

Evidently, much of the rhetoric of FIRIS is self-serving, they are attempting to push this issue and create a furor where there wasn’t, to this scale, prior to their involvement. Their intention to see the removal of SRE in all schools in Australia is apparent, and they are using the argument of opt-in forms to effect this as they know it would be unlikely to remove SRE through any other method presently.

Yet, this billboard launch tomorrow will be interesting. Not least because of the location, which is one of the most religious areas in Sydney.[11]Liverpool LGA has a large population of Muslims and Christians But rather, the fact that the Billboard has the words “God says you are stuck in your sin and need to be rescued from his judgement” is a fantastic choice. What FIRIS intended for shock value is none other than the Gospel call which is central to Christian belief. The billboard itself is a free promotion of the need of many to come to repentance and turn to salvation found in Christ, and Him alone. I certainly pray and hope that it will be effective in having people wanting to know more about what that statement means for them. I can’t help but wonder, did FIRIS actually understand that Christians would positively affirm their choice of quote?

Notwithstanding, FIRIS’ constant claim to only be against the principles taught in SRE and not against Christianity as a whole (as they keep stating that they have a Christian on the FIRIS board), either demonstrates that they really don’t understand Christianity to begin with — or rather, it demonstrates that they do understand it and that’s why they find it shocking.  Shocking enough, that they desire the removal of Christian SRE from the schools — and the suppression of Christ from the children whose parents genuinely want them there.

 

See related:

 

Edit (11/08/2015): I mentioned that Rod Bower would be attending the billboard launch, however I genuinely confused the information provided, and this was not the case. I apologise for the confusion.

 

References   [ + ]

1.FIRIS Facebook Post, 10 August, 2015 https://www.facebook.com/secularschools/photos/a.163420050386530.38683.156994147695787/935619726499888/
2.Legal protection is extended to SRE under section 32 (s32) of the Education Act 1990
3.‘Minister reverses ban on “slut-shaming” and “anti-gay” school books’, Mamamia, 24 May, 2015 http://www.mamamia.com.au/news/religion-in-schools/#eDrEo8Q1ILiFii4q.99 http://www.mamamia.com.au/news/religion-in-schools/
4.There were rumours that the book was used in a small independent SRE provider outside of Sydney, but I never found evidence relating to this.
5.‘Scripture classes: Calls for crackdown on public schools’, Sydney Morning Herald, 6 May, 2015 http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/scripture-classes-calls-for-crackdown-on-public-schools-20150505-ggu7a1.html
6.‘Weerakoon: Sweet or Sari?’, FIRIS, 7 May, 2015 – Archived at: http://thinkingofgod.org/wp-content/uploads/documents/WeerakoonSweetorSari-FIRIS.pdf
7.Per reference 3 above.
8.‘Parents push back against religion in public schools’, Sydney Morning Herald, 10 August, 2015 http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/parents-push-back-against-religion-in-public-schools-20150807-gitqx7.html
9.Per reference 1 above
10.Per reference 8 above
11.Liverpool LGA has a large population of Muslims and Christians