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.
- 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.
- Aim 3 – “Follow an objective, fair and balanced comparative syllabus for education about religions and beliefs.”
- Aim 4 – “Treat all religious organisations who wish to use the school facilities outside of the school day with transparent and equitable policies.”
- They want General Religious Education (GRE) taught by qualified teachers, rather than by relatively untrained volunteers.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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: 1) 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!
- FIRIS persist with false interpretations even when corrected. They continue to promote their wrong definition of what I said.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.