Suburban schools such as Hurstville and Baulkham Hills North are at the higher end of these figures with the explanation that parents at inner city schools had long before withdrawn their children from scripture, while in the suburbs it is a new phenomenon.
As an aside, this is another example of how the intellectualism and ideas of the inner city filter through to the rest of society, by one means or another. This is a good reason for the existence of strong, robust, authentic inner city churches that engage intelligently with their community. Not surprisingly, seven of the 1o schools in the trial are in the inner city with three of these in the electorate of Balmain whose local member is Education Minister Verity Firth.
Bishop of South Sydney, Rob Forsyth, said he was ‘not surprised’ by the result, saying it proves that the ethics classes will be far more contentious in the suburbs than in the inner-city.
‘It proves that the P&C and St James Ethics Centre were wrong when they claimed they were merely providing an alternative to SRE for non-religious parents. This course is genuine competition for SRE. We are losing parents who claim to be Christians but are somewhat ambivalent and easily swayed by the directions given by school authorities,’ Bishop Forsyth told Anglican Media.
He said his most substantive concern is that the Department of Education has been using its authority to encourage parents to ditch Christian SRE in order to recruit more students for the ethics classes.
‘I am very concerned that it is the Government that is now affectively providing this competition.’
Anglican Media claims that Therese Russell, coordinator of the pilot program for the St James Ethics Centre, sent a letter to schools at the beginning of Term 1, urging the principals to recruit as many children as possible. Some of the principals sent this letter to all parents and some modified the letter.
Most affected SRE coordinators declined to comment publicly. Overall there was a feeling the controversy has created a great deal of tension on the local level and SRE was now in a very precarious situation.
Meanwhile, Catholic News reports that thousands of Catholics throughout NSW have answered the call of the Bishop of Wollongong, Bishop Peter Ingham, to sign a petition in support of the work of catechists in state schools.
The bishop invited all dioceses of NSW to consider contributing to the petition which opposes the teaching of ethics classes in time set aside for Special Religious Education (SRE) often referred to simply as “Scripture”.
Catholics are urged to sign the petition in their parishes in the lead-up to May 28, when they will be collated and combined with petitions from other Christian denominations and faith traditions. The petition is online at www.makeastand.org.au