A BACK-to-school row has erupted with religious instructors concerned at new moves to push Christian teaching out of Queensland state school classrooms.
Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge has labelled the push against religious instruction as “misguided” and described as a “right” state school students’ access to RI.
School instructors have hit back at claims by “a small atheist lobby group” that state school parents were pulling their children out of RI classes.
“This is not the case,” Queensland Christian Religious Instruction Network spokeswoman Karen Grenning said.
“Over 70 per cent of families happily consent their children into Christian RI alone, where it is on offer, and this does not include other faiths.”
Ms Grenning described a January 22 in The Courier-Mail headlined, “State schools students losing their religion”, as “confusing”.
The story suggests thousands of students had opted out of classroom religious instruction.
The story quotes documents obtained under Right to Information showing parents of more than 60,000 state school students – about one in 10 – had not given consent for their child to take religious instruction at school.
The documents also revealed more than 360,000 students had not nominated a religion or had one recorded against their enrolment – making up two-thirds of enrolled students.
The figures had drawn Queensland Teachers’ Union president Kevin Bates to suggest the number of parents pulling their children out of RI added weight to the argument there was a growing community view that religion did not belong in state schools.
“We think it’s actually an impost of the time that we have available in the week that could be better spent teaching other areas of the curriculum,” Mr Bates said.
However Ms Grenning said taking overall student figures and then calculating how many undertook RI was a distortion of figures because RI was not offered to all classes in all schools.
RI is an optional program and is mostly offered in Years 1-6.
Weekly 30-minute classes are available in many religions, including Christian, Buddhism and Baha’i.
“The facts are that RI is popular and well supported, where it is on offer,” Ms Grenning said.
She said another set of enrolment documents were filled out by parents before students could undertake RI, and these showed a high take-up rate.
“A small group of politically motivated atheists are trying to take away the rights of the overwhelming majority of Queensland parents who happily consent their children into the program,” Ms Grenning said.
“They are trying to remove the program. And what they want is parental consent ignored.
“The last thing we want is brick walls around our schools. We want an inclusive environment that respects all – faith or no faith.”
Paul Hodgkinson, a religious instructor in state schools for the past 20 years and a former teacher and principal, said, “where RI is offered, it is strongly received by both parents and teachers”.
The schools where he instructs in Collingwood Park and Redbank had an RI participation rate approaching 80 per cent, and he said the results were positive.
“The teachers are on side. The kids are taught to obey because that’s what God wants,” Mr Hodgkinson said.
“It’s part of the school curriculum, and it’s part of a thriving, loving, caring community.
“The kids are becoming clean of heart. They have a much brighter outlook on everything. And that improves their schoolwork. It improves everything.”
Mr Hodgkinson had a simple message to anyone trying to force RI out of the classroom: “These people are trying to leave God out of the equation and therefore they are blind. They can only see their own ideas and philosophies.
“It’s not about philosophies, it’s about relationships – relations with one another, and with the One who created us.”
Archbishop Coleridge said state school students had a right to religious education “in the best and deepest sense”.
“That’s why any push to exclude religious education from schools is misguided,” he said.
“Of course religious education programs need to be constantly examined to make sure that they are adding value to what a school already offers; and we need to ensure that those teaching religious education are equipped as well as possible for the task.
“But we also need to move beyond a secularist ideology which would deny religious education any place in the curriculum, preferring an education which sees only part of the truth of the human person.
“That truth is what education is all about, and we do well to remember that as a new school year begins.”
Queensland Education Minister Grace Grace has confirmed that RI will continue to be provided in state schools with parents’ consent.
Purchase a copy of The Catholic Leader at your local parish or subscribe to receive The Catholic Leader at your door or inbox every week.