Religion vs ethics in Australian schools

Religious leaders feel threatened by ethics classes in Australian schools

Debate is raging in Australia on whether children not attending scripture classes should have special ethics education.

While an overwhelming majority of people support an ethics alternative to religious education in schools,  the church made a case against it last night that changed at least a few minds, reports the Sydney Morning Herald.

Debating the proposition that  “Special ethics education should be allowed for children not attending scripture classes” in the Herald’s online debate, religious figures argued that ethics should be available to all students and was not a suitable complement to religious classes, reducing those for the motion from 86 before the event to 84 per cent afterwards, and increasing those against from 6 to 13 per cent.

But Simon Longstaff, from the St James Ethics Centre which devised the pilot ethics program for schools, said ethics is already part of religious education, and therefore would actually reach all students when taught to those not attending scripture lessons in schools.
Pointing out he had been baptised twice, he stressed the program was not imposing on the right to religious education. ”There is room within our curriculum to extend the capacity of children to develop an ethical sensibility, to understand the quality of argument they bring to bear, and to adopt some of the processes (for living) an examined life,” he said.

The former Olympian Lisa Forrest, speaking as a mother, said the church had no right to say what happens in non-scripture, and the ABC broadcaster Stephen Crittenden said the lack of meaningful alternatives for non-religious education students ”offends Australia’s live-and-let-live ethos”. He stressed it was not an argument between people of faith and no faith.

He suggested that competition between religious and ethics classes would actually make both stronger.

Robert Haddad, a Catholic scripture and church lecturer, said ethics and philosophy should be taught to all students in the mainstream curriculum.

”Let us introduce philosophy and ethics to everyone through the front door …”

Jim Wallace, the managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby, raised questions about the trial program.

”How are we going to … compensate for the fact … there is a moral vacuum in which this ethics is operated?”

Finally, the Anglican Bishop of North Sydney, Glenn Davies, continued the line of argument that all students should be taught ethics - which explores right and wrong but does not define it. He asked whether people would consider special maths or geography an appropriate alternative (to scripture classes), arguing that if ethics is so excellent it should be given to the whole class.

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Authored by: Richard Lee

Richard has been traveling since he took a year off from college, where he was doing a BA in Journalism. He traveled half the world, backpacking with his girlfriend (now his wife). They spent time in South America, Asia, Greece and much of Europe. After writing about his experiences for several airline and travel magazines, he never went back to college.