FIRIS pros and cons

When FIRIS, Fairness In Religion In Schools, present in the media, their spin goes unanswered, so I decided to post a caution here so that media and others might look below the surface of this so-called “parent-driven” lobby, and see what is really driving it.

1. The Pro’s

I applaud these elements, and others do too.

  1. Aim 1 – “Maintain an inclusive school curriculum that does not require any student to withdraw from class on account of different religious beliefs.” RE to be reliable and ethical so that kids are not divided in/out of Special Religious Instruction (SRI) class.
  2. Aim 3 – “Follow an objective, fair and balanced comparative syllabus for education about religions and beliefs.”
  3. Aim 4 – “Treat all religious organisations who wish to use the school facilities outside of the school day with transparent and equitable policies.” 
  4. They want General Religious Education (GRE) taught by qualified teachers, rather than by relatively untrained volunteers.
  5. No proselytising, no coercing, no manipulating kids into their religion. Just education.

Great stuff. I would love to see that.

2. The Cons 

Beneath the facade:

  1. FIRIS does not actually lobby to introduce GRE (aims 1 & 3.) They say it is an aim, but the workload of their lobbying is not for this. Ironically, if they did successfully lobby to introduce good GRE, SRI might simply become obsolete. The fact that they are wanting to oust SRI without GRE in place gives further cause to doubt their intentions about GRE after all. 
  2. FIRIS’s activism is primarily to oust SRI Aim 2 – “Formally cease the practice of volunteer-run special religious instruction (SRI) during school hours.” This is their primary practice. They see no place for SRI, even within GRE’s framework. Conversely, I think it important to put a human face on religions, to let students see and hear adherents speak for themselves, as a way to cross-check the third-hand representations they are getting from GRE teachers. FIRIS do not want actual believers of faiths to be heard.
  3. FIRIS’s “Campaign Team” lie by regularly twisting quotes, inserting their own self-serving definitions. 1) Lift a speaker’s words from an entirely different context 2) Ignore the intended meaning of the words 3) Replace the meaning with the most sinister interpretation 4) Insert that self-serving interpretation into the school context 5) Persist with the false interpretation, even when shown otherwise. (ie. Knowingly lie.) First hand example: whatheysayisaid1) What I said, “We are the evangelists,” in the context of churches looking for reputable evangelists. 2) What I meant in context, “we have expertise in bringing good news in good ways. Ethical, trustworthy ways. For church outreaches.” 3) FIRIS self-serving implication, “We groom, proselytise, coerce, prey on the vulnerable, to convert them to our religion.” 4) …in the context of primary school children’s classes. 5) What they imply I meant, “We coerce to convert children,” in the context of primary school classrooms. Compare this with 1) & 2). It is opposite!
  4. FIRIS persist with false interpretations even when corrected. They continue to promote their wrong definition of what I said.
  5. They attribute incompetence to targets, in defiance of the contrary evidence. Example: they claim it is impossible for me to respect ethical guidelines in my presentations in schools. In fact I (and OACM) have a long and distinguished record of observing the ethics, but they deny that evidence. We demonstrably have the capacity to evangelise(good definition) in one setting, yet only educate in schools. Just like a politician might campaign in one setting, yet only educate in schools. Any professional can do their profession in one setting, AND only educate about it in schools. To say we do otherwise would require evidence, and FIRIS have none. In fact the evidence supports us acting properly, as professionals do.
  6. FIRIS make themselves the arbiters of religious content. Here you see them attacking me on theological grounds, not methodological. If belief in “blue aliens” were a wide-spread belief, SRI blue alien presenters could present their beliefs. But GRE religious educators would have no say in the content of the belief, only in the ethical method by which the content was presented to students. Yet clearly FIRIS are judging the legitimacy of RE based on content. Even SRI can only present their own beliefs, not attack others. Or are FIRIS now the arbiters of GRE content?
  7. The priority of secularist humanism governs their judgements. That’s a bias they don’t always admit to, but it clearly governs their judgements of others’ content, and their own actions. If SRI is ousted, no other worldview would remain in schools but secularist humanism, resulting in indoctrinating kids in that world view only. Which just happens to be their own world view. Is that Fairness in religion in schools?
  8. FIRIS switch interpretations of “secular education.” To gain support they say secular means allowing all religious views. But then they allow their members to claim it means “no religion” in the school, which helps to oust SRI. Incidentally, that twists Byrne’s dictum. 1) What Byrne said, “Public education should be free, compulsory, and secular,” in the context of Catholic/Anglican school divisions.  2) What Byrne meant in context, “Public education should be open and accessible to anyone from any belief system.” 3) Switched interpretation: “Public education should allow no religion.” Or even, “should have secularist humanism as the base worldview.” 4) …in the context of today’s secularised public life. 5) What FIRIS (in those instances) imply Byrne meant: public education should be secular, oust religion, and leave secularism only.” When you think about it, that kind of secular (secular humanist indoctrination) education is no longer “secular” in Byrne’s sense of accessible to all, regardless of belief. It’s a reason many abandon government schools for faith-based schools. FIRIS switch definitions of secular, from claiming the nice definition to gain support from us, to practicing the nasty definition to oust SRI.
  9. FIRIS assume that principals are ignorant of what is happening in their schools. They are saying that many hundreds of principals across Victoria have been allowing proselytizing, right under their noses, all this time. If I were a principal I’d be a bit insulted by that. As the trusted DEECD officers on the ground, they are the best situated to make the call. They are responsible for what goes on in their schools, they know the ethics, and have always adjudged our seminars within educational limits.
  10. FIRIS exaggerate Christians’ support for their cause. While quotes support the Pro’s, few Christians would continue their support to the Cons. 

FIRIS are actually working for section 2, despite what they say in section 1. FIRIS are primarily working to oust SRI, and to filter out religious voices, preferring secular humanism as the arbiter, and final product in education. Journalists, media, and education departments are well-advised to research further than FIRIS’s front page, lest they be duped into false reporting. An expose of their action and tactics would be enlightening, and seeking a word from those they are attacking would be expected journalistic practice. There is a world of difference between what FIRIS say and what they are actually doing.


20 thoughts on “FIRIS pros and cons

  1. This is very concerning – in a country which claims to be Christian it is important for Christianity to be taught and understood which is what happens through SRI

  2. I read this and found the author of this article guilty of his own cons!! Many of these points the author expands upon and then goes in commits these “cons” in his own expansion of the point!!

    Most parents aren’t against their children learning about religion. I certainly aren’t. What I am against is that under SRI only one religion is taught – the religion of the volunteer. They are also not teachers (teachers now have to study for 4 years to be able to in front of a classroom, not six hours) and by only offering one religion’s point of view it is really nothing more than trying to convert children to this point of view. Also Christians have sunday school for that.

    Then the more laughable thing is the only comment on this article so far is from someone claiming Australia is a christian country. Last I checked Australia is secular with a multicultural society made up of many religions and non belief systems. I would prefer my children learn about many different religions so they don’t grow up to be bigoted and so they can show compassion to their fellow man regardless of which belief system they end up adopting.

    Lastly it’s not the job of the “christian faith” to save my children’s souls. I plan to bring my children up to want to do good in the community because they want to make a difference in others lives, not because they are hoping for a reward in the after life (which so far there is no real proof of). If a god is real, I think he will look more favorably on that than trying for force others to your point of view.

    • Hi Sigh. I will be happy to change this post to reflect the most acurate picture of FIRIS. Just give me reasonable cause to change it.
      Meanwhile, I see you confirming 2.2, 2.7, 2.6

  3. Australia has ALWAYS has been a secular nation. When the first fleet settled on Sydney shores on the 26th January 1788 which was a Saturday. The chaplain got the men around and asked Arthur Philip if the next day he could hold a church service to Arthur’s reply, “No! We’re too busy. We’ve got a colony to build. We’ve have to build shelters”.

    It was eight days before they held their first church service since landing on Sydney. It was five years before the chaplain got to build his very own church and he had to raise the money himself to have it built.

    Secularism is part of the founding principle of Australia since the very first landing.

    Please note that secularism isn’t about being “anti-religious” au contraire it guarantees our religious liberty and the freedom of conscious, it also protects religious minorities everywhere. Secularism simply mean “peace” and it makes everyone from religions Agnosticism to Zoroastrianism feels that they are equal in the eyes of the state.

    Lastly and you know this Geoff is that FIRIS has ALWAYS welcomed General Religious education with a syllabus to be written by various church leaders and academics, compiled by the DEECD with the acknowledgement of the church leaders and taught by qualified teachers.

    We do NOT need evangelist which you are in public schools telling my children whom to believe as that is my job.

      • FIRIS are a grass-roots parents group. They (we) are not qualified to make such a syllabus as they are not qualified to make syllabuses for English, Maths History etc. That being said I know that you are NOT qualified either.

        As I stated, the syllabus should be contributed by leaders from various faiths written by academics qualified in creating a syllabus that is neutral point of view, compiled by the DEECD and then verified by the same church leaders for accuracy to be taught by qualified teachers.

        FIRIS has not twisted words as they have exposed the true intentions which organisations like yourself want to do which is to make disciples. Do that on the street corner outside of publicly funded schools.

        Lastly your usage of the word “secular”. If would viewed my comments secular is not a “world view” it is a neutral point of view allowing minority religions to have their say as equally as the larger religions. You might do well into looking at the dictionary meaning of secular and not the Christian perspective ergo it was not taken out of context.

        • I’d love it if everyone at FIRIS consistently used your definition of secular. But just a little perusal of their facebook page reveals the double-useage of the term. What terms and definitions can we agree on, on this page at least? How about:
          – Secular: inclusive, your nice definition, Byrne’s definition, neutral, accessible to all.
          – Secularist: exclusive, the worldview of humanism excluding reference to religious or spiritual.
          – Evangelising: ethical sharing of good news
          – Proselytising: unethical coercion to join the group (your definition of evangelism).
          This would help us avoid endless miscommunications. We might even find we can agree on concepts.

          • What a load of crock Geoff.

            1. Convert or seek to convert (someone) to Christianity: some small groups have been evangelized by Protestant missionaries
            2. Preach the gospel: the Church has a mission to evangelize and declare the faith

            1 Convert or attempt to convert (someone) from one religion, belief, or opinion to another: the programme did have a tremendous evangelical effect, proselytizing many
            2 Advocate or promote (a belief or course of action): ‘Davis wanted to share his concept and proselytize his ideas’.

            If your were evangelising as so to speak then use the street corner outside of the public school rather than proselytising where you attempt to engage with children that do not belong to you are in a school because the law says that every child is to have an education and they are not under the supervision of their parents.

            Your actions are by definition proselytising and not evangelism. This makes you a predator not an evangelist by definition.

          • Not sure what you meant. At first it seems you don’t want to agree on definitions. At the risk of wasting my time, let me share where I’m coming from re my definition of evangelist. I’m talking a Bible-definition (cos in the video, and at churches, I’m talking to a Biblically literate audience), the word was for the runner who came from the king to let everyone know who had won the war. He was a messenger, delivering a message. Well received by some, not by others. That’s it. That’s what I think of when I think of evangelist. Not proselytising. If you can’t try to understand what I mean, that makes communication pretty impossible. 2.3, 2.4.
            Then it seems you are ok to use evangelism in positive sense, but come right out and attack me as being a proselytiser by virtue of presenting in the school at all. That’s 2.5. There is a good way of teaching RE, and we do adhere to it. No proselytising despite your assertions.

          • According to the oxford dictionary evangelising is to convert or seek to convert (someone) to Christianity. Not to any other religion ergo it has no ethicial meaning.

            Also Geoff it is illegal to evangelise in public schools ergo you cannot be evangelising so you must be proselytising and because you are doing this under the following conditions this makes you a predator…

            * Entering an institution where children are to attend by law so you have a captive audience
            * The children are too young to understand the difference between reality and mythology
            * The children are not in any relationship to you or to anyone within your organisation.
            * The parents are not in supervision while you are instructing them.

            Regarding to what you believe, I really don’t give a rodent’s rear end. I am in total favor of freedom of speech and of religion ergo your reference to evangelism, by all means evangelise outside of the schools but DO NOT ENTER IN as I NEVER SAID that it is okay to evangelise inside of schools.

            One other thing, I am NOT a representative of FIRIS however I do support them and know what you claim above is crap.

            Lastly I am not wasting any time because I strongly oppose people entering schools to biasly indoctrinate children their branch of religion when in fact this job solely belongs to the parent. It is NOT the Job of and religious institution, yours included to indoctrinate (claim certain questionable issues in the bible as fact because it is written in) children in a public school. Should a Christian school wants you in there, then it is their business.

          • Oxfors Dictionary

            1. Not connected with religious or spiritual matters.

            Secularism is the noun derisive from the adjective secular ergo FIRIS is correct in the usage of the term secular as being not connected with religious or spiritual matters ergo neutral in its definition.

            Christians have “Christianese” the noun “Secularism” from being not connected with religious or spiritual matters into some sort of Christian derogatory word.

            Now who is twisting words?

          • I appreciate your familiarity with the Dictionary. It may be helpful to ask what words would you use to express what I am trying to say?

          • It helps to use the dictionary before you make blasé statements.

            Next time don’t lie that FIRIS does not wish to include General Religious Education because we do however the conditions are that they remain neutral and is informative to the student’s needs.

            The subject should never be an evangelical or proselytising tool in order to convert the student to a particular religion. There is a difference between the following quotes…

            Jesus died for you – obviously instruction or indoctrination.
            Christians believe that Jesus died for you – education.


            Jesus is a prophet of Allah – obviously instruction or indoctrination.
            Muslims believe that Jesus is a prophet of Allah – education.

          • I agree with everything you just wrote, except the lying bit. I did not say FIRIS don’t want GRE, I said they are not lobbying for it. If they put as much energy into GRE as they are into destroying SRI, they might get somewhere with both!
            I agree with the desire for GRE and the conditions.
            I have explained my need to work with the Biblical definition of Evangelism, vs the dictionary definition. So we should be able to put that behind us now and concentrate on the concepts over which we have so much agreement.
            So, back to my question: what words would you use to express what I am trying to say? (about positive/negative evangelism, education, and positive/negative secularism.)

          • Actually FIRIS states on their web site and I quote, “Follow an objective, fair and balanced comparative syllabus for education about religions and beliefs.” ergo FIRIS is lobbying for GRE.

            Regarding secularism, I basis of secularism, I take note from Jacques Berlinerblau: How to Be Secular

            It is Jacques commentary which gave me the following tag line:

            Secularism isn’t about being “anti-religious” au contraire it guarantees our religious liberty and the freedom of conscious, it also protects religious minorities everywhere. Secularism simply mean “peace” and it makes everyone from religions Agnosticism to Zoroastrianism feels that they are equal in the eyes of the state.

            Also there are some great point about secularism in the following clip:

            If you earnestly agree with the desire for GRE and the conditions then you should be joining FIRIS in order to firstly abolish SRI as SRI is divisive, it segregates children on the bases of their faith. Those whom are opted out have no meaningful academic lessons, the volunteer basically hijacks the school of their academic curriculum.

            Religious institutions already have such children education available such as Sunday School etc. ergo there is no need for SRI.

            Although Australia is a secular nation from its conception the most dominant religion here needs to understand that they are no privileged as the lesser known religions.

          • First, I know that FIRIS say they lobby for GRE as I noted in 1.1 and 1.2. But look at the rest of their website, and their media releases. It is all lobbying to destroy, not create. The few references to GRE are merely used to endorse FIRIS.

            Second, secular doesn’t mean peace, in any definition, not even the dictionary, not even in its etymology. It is inherently exclusive/reductionist because it defines itself by what it is not, not religious, not sacred. Hence it is ever prone to excluding religion, which is why Christians and other faiths are wary of it. Can you understand that perspective? If you are as concerned about freedom of religion (not freedom from religion) then you would simply advocate for that, not secularism.

            Third, I profoundly disagree with FIRIS in abolishing SRI before GRE is up and running. The first step must be to create and introduce good GRE. (Even then, I think it educationally important that students hear from adherents of faiths in their own words. If GRE sufficiently incorporated this, then SRI would become redundant very simply.) If FIRIS took this constructive strategy, I might indeed help – but I can only resist their current strategy.

  4. ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.’
    Religion is a serious and complex topic, I do not believe it has a place in primary schools. As part of studies in history and politics, even psychology, it can and should be covered at the secondary level.
    When a mother sitting in an aeroplane is shot dead next to her nine year old daughter, in the name of religion, faith becomes a matter for adult study, leave the children alone until they are old enough to understand what is at stake.

    • Hi Andy, I’m hearing that you want me to use “evangelist” according to the dictionary definition. But there are numerous words which are shifting in cultural meaning away from Biblical definitions (like “marriage” for example.) You have to allow those who know the Biblical definition the freedom to use the word in that Biblical sense, at least amongst themselves. To then abuse them for using a definition they did not use, in a context they were not referring to, is quite unfair.

      I totally agree that a more profound study of RE is needed in secondary schools. Let’s do it!

      Whether or not religious education has a place in primary schools, is not at issue here. FIRIS say it has a place as GRE, and I agree.

      At issue is they way they go about achieving that. FIRIS are abusing our words to demonise us, to destroy SRI. I’m saying don’t abuse our words, don’t demonise us, and lobby to implement GRE (and SRI will resolve easily.)

      Implying that religious discussion is tantamount to exposing kids to an extremist shooting is unhelpful scare-mongering. In point of fact, such shootings are what proper RE can help avoid.

      • Language evolves, the meanings of words may change to the extent that some now imply the exact opposite of what they did a few centuries ago. Employing words that are in current usage but claiming that they mean what they meant in the reign of King James I and IV can only serve to confuse.
        I am not a member of FIRIS, though I support their aim of getting amateur teaching of religion out of primary schools. I have also come to the personal conclusion that religion, along with politics, economics, and psychology, ought not be covered in primary schools at all, they are all too complex and problematic. At the secondary level I don’t see a place for religion outside the history and psychology curriculum.
        I’m glad to see that Tony Blair is trying to slavage something from the mess he helped create in the Middle East. If enough resources are applied it cannot fail to help, but the application is primarily in parts of the world where information is not freely exchanged, due either to poverty or to monopolistic behaviour on the part of religious or state authorities. Here we have open debate, although some actors receive state funding, and religious organisations operate tax free. All faiths and anti-faiths are at liberty to promote their views and opinions, we don’t need to let them into our schools as well.
        Religion is a huge and intricate topic, it is both powerful and vulnerable, persuasive and fantastical, empowering and destructive. As the song says, “Teacher! Leave them kids alone!”

        • I concede that language evolves. We don’t have to hark back to King James times for the shift in the word “evangelism,” just a matter of decades. So it is appropriate to use it in its Biblical sense among Biblically literate people, to help make sense of the Bible – which is what I was doing in the video. The issue is that once I explained that usage to FIRIS that should have been the end of the matter – understanding should have been reached. However they continue to misconstrue my meaning. That’s deliberate misrepresentation.

          As to your personal views about RE, that explains why you support FIRIS.
          1. The central issues of RE are not so complex as to warrant ignoring them as you suggest. Sure there are many complex peripheral issues, made complex by human self-interests. But one does not judge the central by the peripherals, but the peripherals by the central. And how does one judge the central issues? The same as any subject. Education plays a role, along with holistic factors beyond schools which students must learn to handle also. Religions in Public Democracy
          2. In public FIRIS agrees with me, in practice FIRIS agrees with you. (2.1, 2.2)

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