Trying to make “Special Religious Instruction” a bit less special

Published on Jun 24, 2011

Victoria, Australia: pgr, public education group, consider any instruction of children in matters of faith to be a personal matter for families and religious communities. We oppose a de facto compulsory teaching of religious instruction in public primary schools and suggest if SRI is to be offered then it should be an “opt-in” class out of school time rather than an “opt-out” class in school time.

SRI is not, as many have been led to believe, the teaching of comparative religions or religious history education. It is the teaching of a particular form of Christianity to our children, regardless of the beliefs of their parents or the children’s ethnic or religious backgrounds.

Access Ministries delivers around 97% of all specific religious instruction (SRI) classes in Victorian Primary Schools. ACCESS Ministries is a political clerical alliance of some Christian Churches and groups. ABC News reported a speech by Access Ministries' chief executive Evonne Paddison, in which she told a conference: "Our federal and state governments allow us to take the Christian faith into our schools and share it. We need to go and make disciples." 

ACCESS Ministries recruits volunteers to carry out religious instruction. Volunteers are required because our Government school teachers refuse to administer SRI (as opposed to values education or general religious education which they are happy to endorse). ACCESS will allow its volunteers to offer SRI to our children with as little as one day’s training. 

Since 2006 due to administrative procedures and their implementation within the Department of Education, public primary schools have felt compelled to accept offers made by the Access Ministries to teach religious instruction. Attempts by public primary schools councils to conduct surveys about SRI at their schools have recently led to ‘warnings’ from the Education Department.  

Students in schools are allowed to opt out of these classes but this effectively punishes the child because they receive no alternative education at these times. The Dept of Education's guidelines state that secular education may not be timetabled while students from the class are attending special religious instruction. Children who opt out often feel they are excluded or carry a stigma as a result. They are far too young to understand and are highly sensitive about being seen to fit in. All other activities offered at schools are offered to parents as opt in, except for this one.  

We are concerned that this evangelical Christian group is allowed to teach an out- dated ideology to impressionable young children in our public schools. We do not believe it is the role of the Government school system to determine what children should be taught about religious matters, or to set aside school time to do so.

The petition campaign can be found here in the following terms:

We, the undersigned, call for the Government to:

1/ No longer compel public schools to accept offers made of religious instruction;

2/ Stop funding religious instruction in schools. If religious instruction is to be taught in public schools it should be the decision of the school council of the school, should be able to  be supervised by school teachers, should not interfere with the teaching of the normal school curriculum, and should be carried out on an "opt in" basis rather than an "opt out" basis.

Source: public education group

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