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‘Culture war’ breaks out in Sydney

16 June 2010

by Muriel Porter Australia Correspondent

WHAT has been described as a “culture war” has erupted in Sydney over proposed secular ethics classes in state primary schools.

Both the Anglican diocese of Sydney and the Roman Catholic arch­diocese are op­posed to the new classes, which would provide an alter­native to Special Reli-gious Education (SRE), the weekly classes provided by paid and volun­teer representatives of reli­gious de­nom­inations.

Parents can opt out of having their children attend SRE classes, but those who do not attend are left to “twiddle their thumbs”, supporters of ethics classes say.

Ten schools are currently running a trial of ethics classes. One report suggests that 47 per cent of students have moved from Anglican SRE classes to the new classes.

The diocese of Sydney’s youth-ministry arm, Youthworks, which trains Anglican teachers of SRE, has established a website to campaign against the ethics classes. The chief executive of Youthworks, the Revd Zac Veron, is reported as saying that the SRE classes are an important part of the Church’s evangelistic mission.

The website says that “SRE pro­vides valuable space for young people to ask questions that matter to them and to engage in a search for answers and meaning in the context of a Christian world-view.”

The website also claims that the push towards the introduction of ethics classes threatens the existence of SRE, which was first introduced 120 years ago, and that the ethics classes being taught in the trial pro­gramme are based on secular human­ism.

The Sydney synod’s standing com­mittee recently approved funds of up to $A20,000 to be spent on the defence of SRE.

The Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Peter Jensen, has lobbied the Premier of New South Wales, Kristina Keneally, about the ethics classes. He has argued that the NSW govern­ment has reneged “on an assurance given by governments to the Churches since 1880, and reaffirmed in 1990 and 2008, that it would not permit ethics or any other programs to be delivered at the same time as SRE. How can we be sure that it [the government] does not gut SRE from the curriculum?”

When the trial introduction con­cludes, in a few weeks, the NSW Edu­cation Department will decide whether to introduce the classes per­manently in all state primary schools.

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