Incoherent ‘inherent requirement’ test

Two months ago I sat in a packed room where Mr Tim Wilson MP and Rev Dr Michael Bird addressed the topic, ‘Freedom of Speech in Australia today’. During the conversation Mike Bird said that the next issue facing Victorians will be in relation to religious schools and discrimination policies. This week my non-prophetic friend was proven to be right: the Victorian Government announced that it will reintroduce the ‘inherent requirement’ test, impacting whom religious organisations may and may not employ.

The test was originally introduced by the previous Labor Government in 2010, but was removed in 2011 by the Coalition Government.

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This explanation is offered on the Premier’s website:

“The test was scrapped by the former Coalition Government in 2011, which left many Victorians vulnerable to discrimination when seeking employment with religious bodies or schools, particularly because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The inherent requirements test will limit the ability of a religious body or school to rely on a religious defence to discriminate in the area of employment because of a person’s sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status or differing religious beliefs.

The defence will be limited to circumstances where religious beliefs are an inherent requirement of a job, and an employee or job applicant does not meet the requirement because of a specific personal attribute.

The test will not force religious bodies or schools to employ people with attributes that conflict with its religious beliefs and principles. However, it will require them to demonstrate a necessary connection between their religious beliefs and the requirements of a specific role.”

This latest move from the Victorian Government is disturbing, although not surprising. I appreciate and at times laud the Government’s move to ensure particular social minority groups are protected, including LGBTI people. But one may be forgiven for concluding that some of the extreme measures have less to do with the principle of inclusion, and more about exclusion.

For example, removing SRI from schools had nothing to do with advocating sexual equality. Indeed, the list of anti-religious of measures is growing, and one can only wonder where and if Mr Andrews’ will draw the line. Over the last two years many Victorian families have come to feel as though they are being pushed away from public schools, and now it appears as though the same Government is set on invading the religious school space also, and that of any religious organisation. It is yet unclear whether Churches will be protected from this test or not.

The inherent requirement test is a deeply flawed concept:

First, the notion of ‘inherent requirement’ depends upon imposing a secularist view of religion. The test presumes a separation between what is considered spiritual work and what is not. It is surmising, for example, that a gardener or an office administrator is not doing specifically Christian work because they are not teaching the Bible, etc. This is a false dichotomy that does not exist in Christian faith, nor in many other religions. Every role is an expression of commitment to God and is a valuable part of the whole which serves a common purpose.

Second, this test wrongly assumes that because a particular role does not have a direct theological or spiritual teaching component, it therefore does not matter whether the employee agrees with the organisation’s ethos, beliefs, and vision. This is purely illogical. Why would any organisation or company employ a person who does not support the basic values and vision of that association?

Equal Opportunity doesn’t mean sameness. I’m not doubting the Victorian Government’s commitment to ‘equal opportunity’, but their paradigm of equal opportunity is flawed, and represents an ethic that is not ultimately about diversity, but about conformity.

During that cold July night when Michael Bird pre-empted Mr Andrews’ announcement this week, Tim Wilson offered an idea which deserves consideration as the Victorian Parliament wrestles with this legislation. Mr Wilson believes that the question of whom religious organisations employ is better dealt with through contracts rather than through law. He said,

“In terms of hiring and firing people, I don’t think it’s best dealt with through law. I fully accept that religious institutions have a right to preserve the environment and the value systems of people who embody those value systems.”

“It is the right of children and parents, to raise their children in the culture, traditions and customs to which they hold dear.”

Finally, the question needs to be asked, is it reasonable for a Government to determine what constitutes required religious adherence or not? Is it the Government’s role to dictate theology and ministry practice? Does the Government have the necessary skills and knowledge required to adequately understand theology and therefore make the right judgement regarding the question of what is inherent?

Daniel Andrews’ plebiscite letter to Malcolm Turnbull

I’m beginning to suspect that our Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews, needs a new media advisor, someone who can help him tone down the rhetoric he is continually spraying at millions of fellow Australians.

In an open letter address to Malcolm Turnbull, Mr Andrews has called for Government to drop the plebiscite on marriage, and instead present a bi-partisan Bill to Parliament within the next 100 days.

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In the letter, he writes,

“It will legitimise a hateful debate which will subject LGBTI Australians to publicly-funded slurs and denigration.”

“In Victoria equality is not negotiable. On behalf of my state, I urge you to accept there is no need for a costly and divisive plebiscite and agree to produce a bipartisan Bill to amend the Marriage Act within the next 100 days.”

And apparently members of Parliament who don’t share Mr Andrews’ views, “do not represent a fair and modern country.”

Clearly, the Victorian Premier doesn’t trust the Australian people to conduct a civilised discussion on marriage, and he is also fearful of the possibility that Australians will not support change to the Marriage Act.

I believe there are arguments for and against this plebiscite, and it is undoubtedly an unusual course of action, but it is a valid democratic pathway, and one that was determined months ago.

Given this fact, would it not be wise for our political leaders to encourage Australians to discuss this issue with grace and respect, rather than the unhelpful name-calling Mr Andrews’ seems unable to avoid? This letter is certainly not as offensive as many of his comments which usually include the words, bigot and homophobe, but it still derogatory.  

Let us not pretend otherwise, changing the definition of marriage is no small thing. Australians are not choosing whether to adopt a new tax or funding more schools or creating the NBN, as important as such things may be; we are deciding how Australia will view what is the most essential and basic unit of every society on earth, marriage. Does not the significance of this issue deserve the voice of the Australian people?

As someone who has a voice in the community, albeit a small one, I will gladly stand alongside Mr Andrews’ and affirm that hateful speech and actions against LGBTI people is unacceptable. A marriage plebiscite does not justify spite or slander toward those who wish to change the Marriage Act, nor toward those who believe the Act should remain unaltered.

As important as this plebiscite is, there is something of greater consequence, and that is the good of others. I have no desire to sacrifice people for the sake of a vote. I do not wish harm on any homosexual and lesbian Aussies. But please do not erroneously fuse disagreement with hate as though there is an inextricable link between the two, for this is not the case. To disagree civilly is not to hate, and by thinking as such Mr Andrews’ risks undermining the foundation of democracy.

It is possible, indeed desirable, to show kindness in disagreement. I realise that kindness like marriage is a disappearing norm in Australia today, but showing gentleness and respect toward those with whom there is a different view ought to be basic to our humanity. Is this not one of the reasons why Donald Trump leaves us shuddering?

Mr Andrews’, I appreciate your concerns about the plebiscite, but rather than demeaning those Australians who have a different opinion, will you stand with us in modelling and encouraging a constructive conversation about marriage?

An Open Letter for Daniel Andrews and James Merlino

I have a question that I would like to ask of Daniel Andrews and James Merlino.

Any Government will introduce policies with a mixture of success, and with varying responses from the community. On occasions I have affirmed changes implemented by this Government, as well as  highlighting concerns.

The reason for making this letter public is because the question is pertinent to many thousands of Victorian families. Indeed, it is a question many people have raised with me this year.

I appreciate that our members of Government have very busy schedules, with many demands on them, and so it perhaps unlikely Mr Andrews and Mr Merlino will read this letter for themselves, although an acknowledgement would be welcomed and seen by many Victorians as a positive sign from an inclusive Government.

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Before asking my question it is important to provide some context.

SRI (Special Religious Instruction) was a ½hr/week  opt-in program in schools. A variety of religions were offered, depending on parental interest. In August 2015, the Government announced that the program would be removed from class time, and only made available under very strict guidelines (such that very few schools now have the resources to run the program). In the place of SRI, a new program was introduced, Building Healthy Relationships. This curriculum is to be compulsory in all primary and secondary Schools. It is presented as an anti-domestic violence program, an issue which Mr Andrews’ has rightly identified as a major community concern.

There is a lot of useful material in this program, but unfortunately it is aggressively and unnecessarily promotes gender theory. It teaches children to explore alternative sexualities, provides information for children as young as 12 for having sex, and speaks of heterosexual marriage almost exclusively as a ‘power structure behind which domestic violence occurs.’

In the mean time, a separate curriculum, Safe Schools, has been investigated by the Federal Government and much of the material deemed inappropriate for school children. This Federally funded but optional program has been taken up by the Victorian Government. They have rejected the decisions made by Education Minister, Simon Birmingham, they have promised to fund the program if needed, and they have announced that Safe Schools will be compulsory in every Victorian Government School.

The main architect of Safe Schools, Roz Ward (from La Trobe University), has made it clear that the program less about anti-bullying and is primarily designed to introduce Marxist ideology into schools, in order to change children’s beliefs:

“Programs like the Safe Schools Coalition are making some difference but we’re still a long way from liberation… Marxism offers the hope and the strategy needed to create a world where human sexuality, gender and how we relate to our bodies can blossom in extraordin­arily new and amazing ways that we can only try to imagine today.”

Safe Schools not only describes heteronormality as wrong, it labels children who believe in heterosexual normality as “sexist”. It is somewhat ironic that an anti-bullying program specifically gives derogatory names to children who do not support its contentious ideas.

On top of these programs and other initiatives, The Age announced yesterday (May 8) that the Government is also considering introducing into Victorian schools another program about LGBTIQ ideology, the Gayby Baby education toolkit, which is being released this week.

The Director of Gayby Baby, Maya Newel, believes the program is a “no brainer”, saying, “It’s 2016 and something like 30 per cent of children are not raised by biological heterosexual parents, so we’re not just talking about children in same-sex families, but also divorced families and kinship families and so on. Not only will this be the first resource to represent same-sex families, it will also be something that can really dive deep into family diversity as a topic.”

While Newel concedes that the 30% is not all made up with same-sex families, she does misleadingly say, “30 per cent of children are not raised by biological heterosexual parents”. She thus gives the impression that same-sex families are indeed common place. However, according to the 2011 Census, 0.1% of all Australian children live in a home with a couple of the same gender. Not only are the majority of children raised in homes with a mum and dad, most of the other 30% lives in homes where the intent was for children to have a mum and dad, but due to divorce, death, and other circumstances the children are unable to live with both parents.

If we are going to use statistics as argument for changing school curriculum, surely we ought to present the numbers accurately. And also, if 0.1% of the population warrants another sexuality program in schools, then surely the 60% who have at least a nominal Christian affiliation, warrants introducing a Christian view of marriage and family into schools! Don’t worry, I am not actually arguing for that, but simply pointing out the irony in Newel’s argument.

According to The Age,

“As part of its lesson plans, students will be encouraged to deconstruct the stories of the four main children featured in the documentary (whose parents are gay); reflect on families that fall outside the “traditional” family unit; and challenge gender stereotypes.”

“Victorian Equality Minister Martin Foley said the state government would be “only too happy” to lend its support to the resource, “because it fits with our notion that to be a successful and equal society then there has to be a place for everyone”

Given this context of our State Government introducing multiple new curriculums on the same topic of sexuality, my question is this, are families who do not subscribe to views on sexuality as prescribed by the current Government, still welcome in Victorian State Schools? If the answer is yes, are these families permitted to express their views? Will children who articulate a Christian, Jewish, or Muslim view of sexuality be protected in our schools from bullying? Will they be encouraged to share their opinions without students and teachers belittling them?

Last Wednesday, The Australian reported a story of a Frankston family who have been forced to leave their local school because their daughter was subject to bullying for holding Christian beliefs. Perhaps this is an isolated incident or should Victorians anticipate this to be common practice? After all, if gender theory is taught as fact, should we not expect alternative views to be rejected and spoken against in our schools?

Mr Andrews and Mr Merlino, we understand the direction you are taking children’s education in Victoria, but what remains unclear is whether Victorian families remain free in our schools to engage in, to question, and to offer alternative ideas to the ones now promoted. 

I appreciate your time in reading and considering these questions.

Kind Regards,

Murray Campbell

Respectful Relationships?

I agree with Daniel Andrews’ recent comments about the evils of domestic violence in our society, and I laud the Victorian Government for adopting strong measures to support victims and convict perpetrators. Domestic violence is a dreadful, dreadful thing: Sexual, physical, emotional, and material abuse is never justified.

In August 2015, Daniel Andrews announced that the program replacing SRI in schools would be Respectful Relationships, which has been introduced into secondary schools, and will be compulsory from kindergarten to year 10 in 2017.

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There are many things to like in the curriculum, but oddly, a significant portion of the material has little to do with domestic violence, but is teaching children how to find partners and have sex.

For example, year 8 students are asked to write an ad, describing what qualities they would like to find in a partner. Is it appropriate to ask 12 and 13 year old children what kind of sexual relationship that would like to have?  Is it healthy for children to be directed to online dating sites, and given examples, such as these found in the curriculum?:

‘hot gay gal 19 yo seeks outgoing fem 18-25 into nature, sport and nightlife for friendship and relationship’

‘lustful, sexually generous funny and (sometimes shy) Tiger1962 seeking sexy freak out with similar intentioned woman.’

Not only are young teenagers taught about what to look for in a partner, they are taught what to seek in sex, and they are taught what to believe about sexuality, even to explore and affirm alternative sexual orientations.

As one of the year 8 sessions explains, it is designed to,

“enable students to explore the concept of gender and the associated notions and expectations that have an impact on sexuality. It also provides them with the opportunity to connect issues of gender to different positions of power central to adolescent sexual behaviour. The activity also aims to extend their understanding of gender by exploring traditional notions of gender in a case study that examines the experience of a young transsexual person.”

Much of the ensuing material explores broadening the horizons of sexual relationships, with the determination of deconstructing the “narrow” view of gender.

It may surprise some people to learn that children can legally have sex in Victoria from the age of 12 (younger in some States), so long as it is consensual and the other person(s) is within the legal age bracket. This may be lawful, but I suspect many parents would be shocked to learn that schools teach our children it is okay for them to engage in sexual intercourse at such a young age.

We are fooling ourselves if we think that exposing children to these ideas will not result in influencing sexual and social behaviour. The fact that Respectful Relationships makes consent unequivocal (a vital point) does not mean the activity is therefore good and okay for the child.

Also astonishing is what is missing. In a curriculum teaching relationships and sex, marriage receives almost no mention. Why is that? Marriage is mentioned on a ‘character card’ where Stephen, a 16 year old Christian attending a Christian college, believes sex should only take place within marriage between a man and woman (got to love the pastiche Christian example!). And there is Maria, a 15 year old girl who doesn’t want to wait for marriage before experiencing sex. Otherwise, marriage is only mentioned as a power structure behind which domestic violence occurs. What a sad and miserable view of marriage. I understand there are marriages where appalling abuse happens, and in my work I have ministered to victims from such circumstances. But marriage is designed to be, and often is, a beautiful thing, and it remains the best model for loving and caring intimate relationships in society.

Is it not a wonderful thing when a couple covenant together for life, ‘for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, to love and to cherish’?

There is much sensible and good advice offered in Respectful Relationships, which could be easily taught without the intrusion of particular views on sexuality and without exposing young children to ideas that blemish their innocence. It is a travesty that the issue of domestic violence has been taken captive by sexual libertarian ideology.

Is it the role of Government to absolutise onto children a theory about gender that is disputable and widely contentious? James Merlino has made it clear that this curriculum is to be compulsory in Victorian schools; I wonder, is forcing explicit sexual language and ideas onto children, moral or even legal?

Far from solving the unspeakable horrors of domestic violence, it is ultimately presenting a different version of the me-centric vision of the world. Author, Tim Keller writes, ‘It is possible to feel you are “madly in love” with someone, when it is really just an attraction to someone who can meet your needs and address the insecurities and doubts you have about yourself. In that kind of relationship, you will demand and control rather than serve and give.’ 

Instead of leaning on a failed sexual revolution in order to find a way forward on domestic violence, would we not serve our children better  if we considered a paradigm of sacrifice and service, and where living for the good of others is esteemed more highly than our own gratification?

‘Respectful Relationships’ & ‘Safe Schools’

“Respectful Relationships”

It has been positive seeing media report this week on the Safe Schools program. No matter what one thinks of the program, it is important for parents to be informed about what their children are learning in school. We want to know what direction our children are being led as they grow and learn in our schools. Indeed, where is the train going?

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Last week I wrote a piece about the Victorian Government’s plan to introduce compulsory General Religious Studies into our schools from 2017 (prep-10). While this content coincides with the removal of SRI from normal school hours, the program replacing SRI is in fact Respectful Relationships (as Premier Daniel Andrews announced in August 2015). The program was piloted in some schools last year, and is this year being implemented across Victoria.

Here is a useful and succinct summary of the program, supplied by a Government source,

“Respectful relationships education is located within the health and physical education and personal and social areas of the Victorian curriculum.

Students will develop knowledge, understanding and skills to enable them respectfully relate to, and interact with, others, as well as learn strategies for dealing with relationships when there is an imbalance of power caused by bullying, harassment, discrimination and violence (including discrimination based on race, gender and sexuality). This includes a focus on students protecting their own safety and the safety of others.”

At face value it sounds promising, until one reads the curriculum.

It is unclear what the connection is between Safe Schools and Respectful Relationships (I’m sure someone can clarify this for us). Apart from having different names, and one being a Federally funded program while the latter has been introduced by the Victorian Government, there appears to be significant overlap in the general ethos of the programs and in the material being taught. The most notable difference is this, Safe Schools is optional, whereas ‘Respectful Relationships is now compulsory (from prep-10).

I imagine (and trust) that parents would strongly support our schools teaching students about the harms of bullying and violence. Through the work of Rosie Batty and many others, the dreadful realities of domestic abuse have been exposed and spoken too, including the staggering statistics that reveal how commonplace violence against women and children is in our communities. We rightly want our homes, and our schools, to be safe places for our children.

It is somewhat ironic and disappointing to learn of parents who’ve been subjected to verbal abuse and bullying because they have publicly raised concerns about these programs. Sadly, it has become an all to common, but effective method to keep dissenting voices quiet.

It needs pointing out that our schools already have in place effective and well designed programs to teach our children common values, including respect, care and resilience. Anti-bullying programs have existed and worked in our schools prior to Respectful Relationships.

The issue with Respectful Relationships, as with Safe Schools, is that it extends well beyond anti-bullying education, to teach and encourage children to doubt their sexuality and to explore alternatives.

Here is a contents page for the first part of the course:

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Here is a sample activity for students:

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In Unit One there is a session designed to:

“This session enables young people to explore the impact of particular understandings of gender on expectations about being male or female. It provides a background for the other activities in this resource. The session has been designed to enable students to explore the concept of gender and the associated notions and expectations that have an impact on sexuality. It also provides them with the opportunity to connect issues of gender to different positions of power central to adolescent sexual behaviour. The activity also aims to extend their understanding of gender by exploring traditional notions of gender in a case study that examines the experience of a young transsexual person.”

One of two learning goals for this session is to ‘identify implications of narrow understandings of gender’. In other words, it is encouraging children to explore and perhaps even identify with a view of sexuality that is not just boy and girl, or that biology and gender and necessarily connected.

The Principal of Scots school Adelaide, said of Safe Schools, ‘It feels like a ham-fisted attempt to change a culture.’ The same can be said of Respectful Relationships, only that in Victoria it is compulsory.

If parents are concerned about these programs, you may wish to your local member of Parliament. It may be helpful to talk to your school principal, and to learn what your school is doing.

I would also encourage parents to read the program materials for themselves. Finally, it is important to read this piece in todays, The Australian (Feb 10):

Eleven-year-old children are being taught about sexual orientation and transgender issues at school in a taxpayer-funded program written by gay activists.

The Safe Schools Coalition teaching manual says that asking parents if their baby is a boy or a girl reinforces a “heteronormative world view’’.

Religious groups yesterday criticised the “age-inappropriate’’ manual, which suggests that sexuality be raised in every subject area. “Whatever the subject, try to work out ways to integrate gender diversity and sexual diversity across your curriculum,’’ the manual says.

The All of Us teaching manual, designed for Years 7 and 8, says that children often realise they are lesbian, gay or bisexual between the ages of 11 and 14, while the ­average age for “coming out’’ is 16.

A lesson plan on “bisexual ­experiences’’ requires students to imagine they live in a world “where having teeth is considered really unpleasant’’. Students take turns telling a classmate about their weekend, without showing their teeth.

“How did it feel to have to hide part of yourself?’’ the students are asked. “Do you think that some lesbian, gay or bisexual young people feel that they need to hide part of themselves? How might this make them feel?’’

Children are shown short films about the personal stories of young lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people.

In a lesson on same-sex attraction, students as young as 11 are told to imagine they are 16-year-olds who are “going out with someone they are really into’’. The class is divided into students pretending to be going out with someone of the same sex, and classmates pretending to like someone of the opposite sex.

The children have to answer 10 questions, including whether they could “easily talk to your parents about your sexuality”, and to name four famous Australians of the same sexuality.

The teacher then instructs the children to stand, and slowly counts backwards from 10. Each child can sit down when the number called out by the teacher corresponds with the number of times they answered “yes’’ in the quiz — meaning that a student who answers “no’’ could be left standing in front of the class.

The Safe Schools manual ­appears to reach beyond promoting tolerance, to advocating activism by students. It tells students to defy teachers who refuse to let them put up LGBTI posters.

“If you can, it’s a good idea to get permission to put your posters up, so you avoid getting in ­trouble,’’ the manual says. “If your school or teachers say no, ask for reasons and see if they make sense. If they don’t seem reasonable, you may have to be creative about where you place them.’’

Safe Schools also advises ­students to “use your assignments to start conversations’’.

“For example, some students have chosen to do their English oral presentations on equal marriage rights or their music or art assignments on how artists express their sexuality, gender or intersex status through their work,’’ it says.

The Safe Schools Coalition suggests that schools paint a rainbow crossing, provide unisex toilets and hand out stickers to supportive teachers.

The federal government has provided $8 million in funding for the program, which has won support from the Australian Secondary Principals Association, beyondblue, headspace and the Australian Education Union. The Victorian government will require all state schools to join the Safe Schools network by 2018, but the program is voluntary in other states and territories.

So far 490 primary and high schools nationally have signed up, although the list of 24 schools in Queensland is secret.

Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham said the Safe Schools program was an “opt-in’’ for schools and run at arm’s length from government.

“Homophobia should be no more tolerated than racism, especially in the school environment,’’ Senator Birmingham said. “The resource is intended to support the right of all students, staff and families to feel safe at school.’’

A La Trobe University study of more than 3000 same-sex-attracted young people in 2010 found that 75 per cent had experienced some form of homophobic bullying or abuse — with 80 per cent of those occurring at school.

Australian Christian Lobby spokeswoman Wendy Francis said the Safe Schools material pressured kids into accepting LGBTI concepts and “confuses them about their own identity’’.

She said forcing students to imagine themselves in a same-sex relationship was a “form of cultural bullying’’.

Ms Francis said the material was not age-appropriate, as 11-year-old children were too young to be taught about sexual orientation and transgender issues. “A lot of children are still pretty innocent about this stuff — these are adult concepts,’’ she said.

Ms Francis agreed that bullying against LGBTI students “absolutely has to be stopped’’.

“Every child should be safe at school,’’ she said.

Safe Schools Coalition national director Sally Richardson said students at safe and supportive schools did better academically and were less likely to suffer poor mental health. “Our resources are designed to provide teachers with tools to help them have conversations with students around inclusion and diversity in the community,’’ Ms Richardson said. “We provide schools with practical ways to foster a positive school culture where students, staff and families of all sexualities and gender identities feel safe, included and valued.’’

Ms Richardson said all the Safe Schools materials — including the All of Us teaching guide — were used at the discretion of individual schools.

The principal of Scotch College in Adelaide, John Newton, said his students had “embraced’’ the Safe Schools message of support and tolerance.

But he did not approve of the lesson plan that required children to imagine themselves in a same-sex relationship.

“That wouldn’t be a method we’d use,’’ Dr Newton said.

“It feels like a ham-fisted attempt to change a culture.

“Our children are well ahead of the issue and happy to talk about it — they seem to have a very mature approach.’’

Safe Schools is also used in Shenton College, an independent public school in Perth. “We strive to be a welcoming, progressive and inclusive public school,’’ said principal Christopher Hill.

“We can’t turn away from the fact that schools need to deal with these sorts of issues.’’

The Safe Schools guide cites statistics that 10 per cent of people are same-sex attracted, 1.7 per cent are intersex — born with both male and female features — and 4 per cent are transgender.

  

Introduction of ‘General Religious Studies’ in Victorian Schools

When I first became a parent someone gave Susan and me this wise advice, ‘whenever you offer a criticism or correction to your children, make sure you also give them 10 encouragements.’  I’m pretty sure we haven’t made it to 10 every time, but we try.

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The logo presence does not represent a Govt endorsement of this article

When it comes to the education of children in Victoria, I could easily mention 100 things that are fantastic about our schools and teachers. As a parent with 3 children in school, I am very thankful for the education they are receiving, and for the care and expertise of their teachers.

Having said that, I do not support everything that is being implemented by the Education Department, especially  issues relating to directives from the Education Minister, Mr James Merlino.  In 2015 the current Victorian Government made several drastic and unnecessary changes to our education system in regard to SRI (and other related issues); these have been discussed at length on other occasions. In 2016 the changes will continue, and it is important for parents to be made aware.

Our State Government is introducing material on General Religious Studies (prep-year 10). This is one of two curriculums* that is replacing SRI (which can now only take place outside of normal class hours, along with an extensive list of new measures). The other program is Building Respectful Relationships.

In this post I wish to raise 4 concerns regarding the General Religious Studies.

First, the freedom to choose religious education has been taken away from students and parents. Whereas families once had choice and could opt-in for religious classes (whether it be Christian, Jewish, Muslim or Buddhist classes), they are no longer given the option.

The material has been made available for this year, but due to certain issues (relating to training, I believe) the course will become compulsory in both State and Catholic schools from January 2017.

Second, can the Education Department guarantee that the General Religious Studies material will be accurate and taught impartially?

Learning about other religions is important and useful, and at home we ensure our children can learn about what different people believe. 

About teaching religion in schools, there is a significant ideological issue at stake, is it the role of Government to teach religion? Apart from that, my concern is, will educators ensure that each religion is explained and taught with fairness and veracity?

Neutral education is a fairy tale, and this is clearly demonstrated by the Department’s own summaries of the 5 major religions. I am not an expert in Hinduism, Islam or Judaism, although I can (in my view) find fault in these representations, but as a Christian with an honours degree in theology I am in some way, able to speak to the published presentation of Christianity

According to the Education Department these are the ‘key premises’ of Christianity:

“There is one God, consisting of the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ) and the Holy Spirit. God is the creator and sustainer of the universe. God became human in the person of Jesus, the Son.

People have one life and its purpose is to live in a loving relationship with God, with others and with the world. The life and teachings of Jesus show how this is done and make possible the life-giving changes needed in individuals and society. Christians are empowered by the Holy Spirit and are called to demonstrate God’s love, compassion and justice in all their relationships and interactions. Most Christians believe in an afterlife; that after their physical death, they will live forever with God.

The Bible is the sacred text for Christians. The Bible has two parts, known as the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament contains Jewish books and teachings, before the time of Jesus. The New Testament records the teachings of Jesus as well as the history and teaching of the early

Church which is based on the teaching and example of Jesus.”

There are certainly statements here that align with Christianity, but others are blatantly wrong, and some of the most central tenets are altogether missing.

Here is one example of a basic error, ‘Most Christians believe in an afterlife; that after their physical death, they will live forever with God”. No, all Christians believe in an afterlife, and this life beyond death will be physical.

Notice how there is no mention of sin, Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection, and of salvation on account of God’s grace. There is no mention of hell. Without these things there is no Christianity. It is not enough to make the excuse, we can’t say everything in a few paragraphs, the core of Christianity has been ripped out and in so doing it is presenting a Christianity that is inauthentic and inaccurate.

To quote the Bible, Christianity is about ‘Christ and him crucified’.

My point is this, if the Education Department is unable to fairly and accurately summarise the Christian faith, how can we trust what they want taught about any and all religion?

One of the stated aims is that it ‘should include…opportunities for critical thinking.’ That’s a fine intention, but if my children are to be taught any religious studies, I want them learning the facts, not an erroneous and sloppy version that looks more like a fake painted by a liberal secular humanist on a bad hair day.

Thirdly, one of the concerns aimed at SRI was that instructors were not only explaining what their religion believes but were encouraging students to practise and participate, in a variety of ways.

The Facts Sheet given to school Principals by the Victorian Education Department (November 2015) makes it clear that as part of General Religious Studies, teachers may organise for students to celebrate festivals belonging to the different religions. They cite examples including dressing up for Diwali (a Hindu festival celebrating their understanding of spiritual victory), making Christmas decorations, and sharing sweets for Eid (a Muslim festival).

In other words, not only is this new religious content compulsory and fails at a basic academic level, it is encouraging students (regardless of their own religious convictions) to participate in activities of other religions. I have no doubt that this will be deeply troubling for many thousands of Victorian parents, from different religions.

Fourthly, class room teachers will be required to teach the material, although under very strict guidelines a visitor may be invited to teach certain aspects.

I have a very high regard for the teachers at my children’s school, but I suspect that very few if any have qualifications in theology or philosophy. I imagine it is difficult enough for them to teach the many different subjects they are already putting together each year, let alone teaching theology, something which would normally require a four year university degree!

I understand that teachers will be presenting overviews, not deep theological treatises. However, even a simple grasp of the 5 major religions requires significant learning, and what of students when they ask teachers questions about these religions? Will they be equipped to answer? I certainly hope they won’t be relying on the current information that the Department are providing, given its flawed representations

I have been informed by the education department that the content must be taught (from 2017), but it will be up to each individual school as to how it will be taught.

What can parents do?

Speak to your school principal (and council) and graciously explain your concerns to them.

Write to your local member of Parliament, and kindly and succinctly express your concerns.

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Technically, the General Religious Studies is not a curriculum, but content which can be fitted into various areas of learning at school, for example it may appear under ‘Civics and Citizenship’ or ‘Ethical Capability’

Return of the Christmas Grinch

The Grinch has jumped off the pages of Dr Seuss and has landed in town.  In Victoria, the current Government have informed state schools that Christmas celebrations can continue, but  references to Jesus Christ are discouraged and may even be outlawed.

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Like blowing out candles and eating a birthday without celebrating an actual birthday, it’s ok to celebrate Christmas, so long as we avoid talking about its actual significance.

The Bible is now banned from being mentioned during school time and no more prayers. Even hymns are prohibited, although carols are ok.  Can anyone tell me how a school is meant to differentiate between a hymn and a carol? Does that mean Jingle Bells still rocks, but Away in a Manger has been thrown out?  Are songs about an obese man obsessed with dressing in strange costumes in, but songs about the birth of Jesus  are out? We can mention the reindeer but not the donkey, the elves but not the shepherds?

Perhaps this has less to do with religion and more about discriminating against classical music in favour of crappy pop songs. After all, has there been a genuine classic Christmas song composed in the last 50 years? Any school performing Handel’s Messiah had better watch out.

To be fair, Education Minister, James Merlino, has said, “As with other curriculum decisions, schools will make the decision as to which Christmas carols feature as part of classroom activities.” So maybe, just maybe,  there is still so room in our schools to sing  ‘Joy to the world’.

I like the Grinch; when he’s mean he is funny, and in the end the Grinch realises the folly of his ways, but real life isn’t always so comical.  We can easily close our children’s books but we should not be so quick to overlook our history books.

There is a lesson from history that the Daniel Andrews’ Government are ignoring, and it is a lesson that was taught at the very first Christmas.  At the time when Jesus was about to be born, Joseph and Mary were knocked back by the BMA (Bethlehem Motel Association); no one wanted them, and so Jesus was born in a cave where animals sheltered at night. When news of Jesus’ birth reached the Government, they didn’t take it too well. In fact , the man in charge, Herod, sent his cronies across to Bethlehem to stamp out any mention of Jesus.

Well, we know how history ended up, Jesus won, and Herod and the citizens of Bethlehem with their closed door policy have been booed into incongruity ever since.

These new  Herodian-like policies in our schools ought to be respected; they are stupid but we must obey them, for the Scriptures tell us to do so (Romans 13). However, I think it is wise for us to revisit history, because by giving it the cold-shoulder we are bound to repeat the same errors that others before us have made.

While Herod hounded and Bethlehem was brusque, at the same time some of the smartest people and the lowest people of that time,  did go to Bethlehem seeking Jesus and in finding him  worshipped him as king and God. History remembers well the Magi and the Shepherds .

If you’re not a fan of Herod, and you do love Christmas, why not visit one of the many churches that will be celebrating the birth of Jesus and singing all the carols we love? And maybe do it soon, just in case someone has the cracker idea that talking about Jesus in Church is no longer a tolerable thing to do.

There is an invitation to Mentone Baptist’s Christmas services here. Indeed, I would like to extend an invitation to Mr Andrews and Mr Merlino to attend our Carols Service on December 20th, 6pm. You and your families are very welcome to join us.

ChristmasWeb

Is it a donkey? Is it a lion? What has happened to freedom of speech?

“You think freedom means doing what you like. Well, you’re wrong. That isn’t true freedom. True freedom means doing what I tell you.” (Shift, in The Last Battle)

I can’t remember many times when I have found myself agreeing with Germaine Greer, but on this occasion I am at least sympathetic with her situation. A petition with over 800 signatories is pushing to ban Germaine Greer from giving a lecture at Cardiff University, on account of her views about sexuality. That’s right, one the world’s most outspoken voices on women’s rights and sexual liberties is apparently too orthodox for these students.

1445718397585The author of the petition commented, ”Greer has demonstrated time and time again her misogynistic views towards trans women, including continually misgendering trans women and denying the existence of transphobia altogether.”

“While debate in a university should be encouraged, hosting a speaker with such problematic and hateful views towards marginalised and vulnerable groups is dangerous. Allowing Greer a platform endorses her views, and by extension, the transmisogyny which she continues to perpetuate.” (quoted in The Age October 25, Petition calls for university to ban Germaine Greer from event over ‘hateful’ transgender views)

Based on this explanation it sounds as though Germaine Greer must hold some very distasteful views about transgender people. However, when I listened to Greer’s views, it appears that the accusations are false. The point that so riled these Welsh students is that Greer believes that surgical and hormonal treatment does not make a man into a woman. In fact, Greer does little more than state a biological fact. Listen to this interview by the BBC (language warning):

The allegations are so ridiculous; I feel like I need to rub my eyes to make sure that I’m not living in some fantasy land. But no, this isn’t Narnia or Animal Farm.

The allegation of transmisogyny maybe unfounded, but that doesn’t matter because the accusation itself is an effective way to silence opposing views.  It may not have worked in the case of Germain Greer, not but not everyone is boisterous and thick skinned.

These students from Cardiff University have used a tool of debate that is becoming all to common:

  • Silence your opponents by accusing them of hate.
  • Silence your opponents by insisting that their views will lead to abuses.

No one is doubting that homosexual and transgender people have suffered abuses, and speaking out about such treatment is only right. The issue here, however, is not about protecting transgender people from hate and abuse, it is about denying people the freedom to discuss and disagree with the current sexual milieu. What makes this whole approach particularly ugly is that it is using people’s vulnerabilities and fears as a smoke screen for social engineering.

Germaine Greer is not the first victim of these Calormene-like speech police, this is the growing experience for many groups in the UK, Canada, Germany and the USA; especially Christian groups.

Sadly, this change of climate is also moving over Australian society, and a cold winter is gradually freezing out free speech. Take for example, Bill Shorten’s op-ed piece for Fairfax on the issue of the plebiscite for same-sex marriage:

“But I don’t think enough attention has been paid to the biggest risk a plebiscite brings – the danger and the damage of unleashing a divisive, drawn-­out debate.

A plebiscite could act as a lightning rod for the very worst of the prejudice so many LGBTI Australians endure. A platform for people to attack, abuse and demean Australians on the basis of who they love.”

In other words, we should by-pass public opinion because public views may not necessarily conform to the progressive agenda.

“You thought! As if anyone could call what goes on in your head thinking.” Just as Shift challenged the Bear who dared question him, we seem to be  moving toward a democratic totalitarianism, where society permits us to support same-sex marriage and sexual fluidity, but we are no longer free to offer a dissenting voice. Nowhere is this more evident than perhaps in Victoria where the Daniel Andrews’ Government is introducing policies that deliberately target the removal of Christian ideas and values from the public arena.

Deitrich Bonheoffer observed how the Reichstag Fire Decree of 1933 changed the public space in Germany. He wrote,

“Restrictions on personal liberty, on the right of free expression of opinion, including freedom of the press, on the rights of the assembly and association, and violations of the privacy of postal, telegraphic and telephonic communications, and warrants for house searches, orders for confiscations as well as restrictions on property, are also permissible beyond the legal limits otherwise prescribed.”

We have begun down this insane path, and if the media and certain political parties are anything to go by, the journey is just beginning.

In light of this, I offer these 3 suggestions:

1. Don’t accept the premise behind the case for marriage change. Disagreement and disapproval does not equal hate. The Bill Shorten’s and Cardiff students of this world would have us believe that there are only two roads to travel, either total acceptance or hate and fear. Both options are untenable. Christians know that the Gospel of Jesus Christ offers us a third way, that of loving and reasonable disagreement.

2. Don’t yield to the pressure and remain silent. It is important for the plurality of Australian voices to be heard in the public space.

3. Speaking up is no longer free; it will come at a cost. Our situation is unusual in light of world history; we have enjoyed social freedoms that people in many other parts of the world have never experienced. It has been possible to speak openly without any genuine sacrifice, perhaps a few crude comments thrown our way but nothing more. We need to wake up to the fact that Australia has changed, and for Christians, Jesus’ words about taking up our cross may become more than just words.

A donkey dressed up as a lion is still a donkey, no matter how much a monkey tells you otherwise. That old Narnian like Bear, Germaine Greer, has spotted a fraud in public discourse and we Aussies’ would be wise to also question the course that national conversation is now taking.

Puzzleaslan

New evidence suggests that the closure of SRI was a mistake

It appears as though Daniel Andrews and the Victorian Government have unnecessarily pulled the plug on Religious Instruction in schools (SRI).

In August this year Education Minister, James Merlino, announced that religious instruction classes would be removed from Victorian schools from 2016. It should be mentioned that religious groups may be permitted outside class time, however the parameters for running these lunch-time groups remains unclear and uncertain.

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Why am I suggesting that the Government has made a mistake? In the last 24 hours the ABC has published two articles that warrant a re-examination of SRI’s closure.

First of all, it has been demonstrated that the policy shift derives from a faulty understanding of secularism (see Michael Bird’s piece on ABC Religion and Ethics). Dr Bird refers to the ‘New Atheists’ who have redefined secularism, “no longer as the freedom of the individual in religion, but as the scrubbing of religion from all public spheres.” It is this fallacious thinking that has been pushed by groups such as FIRIS, and would seem has also been adopted by the Andrews’ Government.

One of the adverse effects of this view of secularism is that we are creating a new wave of sectarianism, where thousands of families are now faced with the dilemma of either keeping their children in a State school environment where religious toleration is dissipating, or moving their children to independent schools. Far from creating more inclusive schools, we are in danger of returning to the ugly days of sectarian divides, except this time it is not Protestant/Catholic, but religious/non-religious.

As a parent who has three children attending a State school, I value the education they receive; the teachers are excellent and the pastoral care is first rate. It is worrying though, that faulty Government policy may unnecessarily drive a wedge in many school communities, where none has existed previously.

Secondly, Michael Jensen has written a piece overviewing findings from recent academic studies, that demonstrate the positive benefits of our children learning about God and engaging with ideas found in religion.

He says,

“Here’s the bottom line. There’s been a lot of alarmist stuff written recently about the potential detrimental effects of religious teaching on young people. What the hard data says is otherwise: an active religious faith is much to be desired in young people, and the benefits of such a faith persist into old age.”

Dr John Dickson has also helpfully summarised the findings  from one set of research that has been published in The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Health (Oxford University Press, 2012):

* ‘Well-being’: 78% of over 300 studies report a significant positive relationship between religion/spirituality and well-being.

* ‘Hope’: 73% of 40 studies find that religion/spirituality is related to greater hope.

* ‘Optimism’: 81% of 32 studies indicate that optimism is more common among those who are religious/spiritual.

* ‘Meaning and purpose’: 93% of 45 studies find that religion/spirituality is related to greater purpose and meaning.

* ‘Social support’: 82% of 74 studies report significant links between religion/spirituality and a person’s social support.

* ‘Self-esteem’: 61% of 69 studies report a positive link between religion/spirituality and self-esteem.

* ‘Depression’: 61% of 413 studies found lower rates of depression or faster recovery from depression in individuals who are more religious.

* ‘Suicide’: 75% of 141 studies found that greater religiosity/spirituality is associated with less suicidal ideation, fewer suicidal attempts, or fewer completed suicides.

* ‘Social capital’ (i.e., an individual’s community participation, volunteerism, social trust, involvement in civic life): 79% of 14 studies report significantly positive associations between religious involvement and social capital.

While I would add certain caveats and qualifications about these findings, they nonetheless communicate that there are significantly positive social and mental benefits that derive from belief in God.

It is interesting to note that the Victorian Department of Education understand that ‘Health and wellbeing are essential for quality of life and are fundamental preconditions for learning and development’. One of the identified aspects of wellbeing is what they refer to as ‘spiritual wellbeing’. And yet the Government is truncating this very principle by taking away from students the freedom and opportunity to engage with these very things.

Dr Bird and Dr Jensen are not saying anything new, but they offer timely refutations to the popular memes about religion, children and education. Given the weight of their arguments, I believe it is reasonable for Mr Merlino and Mr Andrews to reconsider their decision about SRI in 2016.