Victorians concerned about the erosion of secularism in state schools are running a campaign called Fairness in Religions in School (FIRIS). The above graphic is from a FIRIS billboard put up in the suburb of Bulleen. FIRIS was launched in response to current government policy that allows religious volunteers to take up a part of the school day to proselytise their faith to schoolkids. Here are the campaign’s points of contention taken from the FIRIS website:
FIRIS is a parent run campaign that aims to change the way children experience religion in Victoria State schools.
Churches have no right to set school curriculum policy.
The current policy is designed to favor ACCESS Ministry, and only ACCESS Ministry. This group runs a Ministry with government authority and funding.
We support education about religion consistent with Australia’s multicultural character and believe that families can be trusted to attend to the religious formation of their children. The current school policy is a result of political intimidation by a small number of church activists.
This policy divides children and school communities by requiring families of minority religions, or of no religion to withdraw their children from school time.
Ah yes, ACCESS Ministries, that group of evangelical Christians who have no qualms about tearing down the wall separating religion from state for the sake of winning young converts to their One True Faith. Not surprisingly, those with a vested interest in promoting their particular brand of sky-fairyism are hostile towards the idea of secularism. Secularism constraints them – it limits their ability to impose their religious values on non-believers and indoctrinate a mass of impressionable minds, many of which are of school age.
The FIRIS campaign calls for the Victorian government to do the following:
1. Maintain an inclusive school curriculum that does not require any student to withdraw from class on account of different religious beliefs
2. Formally cease the practice of volunteer-run special religious instruction (SRI) during school hours
3. Follow an objective, fair and balanced comparative syllabus for education about religions and beliefs
4. Treat all religious organisations who wish to use the school facilities outside of the school day with transparent and equitable policies
Point number 3 serves to clarify that secularism isn’t about banning religion from the public sphere, but about ensuring that no specific religion is privileged over others. Not “teach no religion”, but “teach all religions” as different belief systems with no single one having a claim to ultimate truth or authority.
Parents and the organisers of FIRIS are taking their case to the Victorian Administrative and Civil Tribunal. FIRIS chairman Tim Heasley made this statement:
“We would like to see religion taught in a fair way that reflects Australia’s multi-cultural commitments and we’re asking our schools to do this in a way that does not violate the `secular principle’ of public education. This needs to be done by closing the door to activists from all religions who want to use our schools to get at kids”.
“Our State Schools are not Church Playgrounds and it is deeply concerning to me as an Australian and as a parent, that I should need to put up a billboard to make this case to the Minister of Education. The Minister could easily change this policy, and that is what we intend to see him do”.
While there has been some progress in the fight against religious encroachment into state education, campaigns like FIRIS are vital to remind the government and the wider public about the secular principles this nation was founded upon, principles that must be upheld if Australia is to remain a progressive, liberal, diverse country. Please show your support by liking the FIRIS Facebook page and spreading word of this important campaign.