Dr Paul Ehrlich accusing Scripture classes of child abuse on QandA

Last night on QandA, guest panelist, Dr Paul Ehrlich (Professor of Biological studies at Stanford University), made an astonishing allegation regarding religious instruction in schools.

“We did, but we didn’t have child abuse required in those days. We didn’t have any religious instructions in the schools,” Dr Ehrlich said.

“Did you just say religious instruction is child abuse,” Jones asked the outspoken panellist.

“That’s what Richard Dawkins and lots of other people have said; that you teach people details about non-existent supernatural monsters and then behave in reaction to what you think they are telling you.”

“That’s child abuse. You don’t raise your kids that way,” Dr Ehrlich said.

Audience members then responded with applause.

I have heard similar comments before, made by angry and uninformed persons, but not by an intellectual and person of public standing. We have come to expect these types of accusations by supporters of FIRIS and others, but do the allegations have warrant? If this is a case of name calling, it is truly bad taste and Dr Ehrlich should apologise. If, however, the allegation is serious, action must be taken by both Government and police, for child abuse is rightly deemed appalling and never acceptable.

According to the Department of Human Services (DHS) child abuse is defined in the following ways:

“Child abuse is an act by parents or caregivers which endangers a child or young person’s physical or emotional health or development. Child abuse can be a single incident, but usually takes place over time.

In Victoria, under the Children Youth and Families Act 2005 a child or young person is a person under eighteen years of age.

Physical abuse

Physical abuse occurs when a child suffers or is likely to suffer significant harm from an injury inflicted by a child’s parent or caregiver. The injury may be inflicted intentionally or may be the inadvertent consequence of physical punishment or physically aggressive treatment of a child. The injury may take the form of bruises, cuts, burns or fractures.

Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse occurs when a person uses power or authority over a child to involve the child in sexual activity and the child’s parent or caregiver has not protected the child. Physical force is sometimes involved. Child sexual abuse involves a wide range of sexual activity. It includes fondling of the child’s genitals, masturbation, oral sex, vaginal or anal penetration by a penis, finger or other object, or exposure of the child to pornography.

Emotional abuse

Emotional Abuse occurs when a child’s parent or caregiver repeatedly rejects the child or uses threats to frighten the child. This may involve name calling, put downs or continual coldness from the parent or caregiver, to the extent that it significantly damages the child’s physical, social, intellectual or emotional development.

Neglect

Neglect is the failure to provide the child with the basic necessities of life such as food, clothing, shelter, medical attention or supervision, to the extent that the child’s health and development is, or is likely to be, significantly harmed.”

Do Scripture classes fall into any of these categories? What are the facts?

-Scripture classes are voluntary, with parents having the choice to opt-in their children or not.

-In the case of Christian SRI, these classes teach students basic Christian beliefs by reading and thinking about the Bible.

-Students are free to explore and ask questions.

-No one is compelled or forced to believe the ideas that are communicated, although students are encouraged to use their minds and hearts as they consider the big questions of life.

– The worldview taught in SRI is about truth, love, hope and kindness. Everything that child abuse is, is opposed by these programs.

The reality is, there is no substance to Dr Ehrlich’s allegations; certainly not in the case of Christian instruction classes. I cannot speak on behalf of other religions as I don’t have experience there, but no doubt they will respond for themselves.

Such a misuse of language may garner rapturous cheers from anti-religious supporters, but it contributes nothing to wise and constructive discourse.  In fact, Dr Ehrlich’s comments are incredibly irresponsible, and no doubt victims of child abuse would be justified for being hurt and outraged by them. 

Imagine the public outcry if a Christian panelist on QandA said that refusing children the opportunity to explore theism was akin to child abuse? What would Dr Ehrlich think if a person on national television accused him of child abuse? My point is, his comments are not mere rhetoric, they are allegations of utmost seriousness, and Dr Ehrlich, if he has any intellectual and moral integrity, should withdraw them.

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3 thoughts on “Dr Paul Ehrlich accusing Scripture classes of child abuse on QandA

  1. Murray, we know only too well where outrageous accusations like this, made against other “groups” can lead. It’s especially worrying when people start applauding them. Mocking is one thing, accusing people of child abuse is crossing a line. It is offensive, hurtful and is starting to incite hatred against people for no other reason than they hold to a set of beliefs that millions have held to for centuries. If this is tolerated where will it end for the next generation? Is this not a time for a formal hate-speech complaint?

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  2. Pingback: Is SRE a form of child abuse? | NSW Council of Churches

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