EDUCATION Minister Bronwyn Pike has ducked a potential backlash from the powerful Christian lobby by rejecting a proposal to allow humanism to be taught in primary schools during time allocated for religious education.
The Humanist Society of Victoria, which wants to teach an ethics-based curriculum, is planning a legal challenge, saying that the current system indirectly discriminates against non-religious children, causing ”hurt, humiliation and pain and suffering” to them when they opt out of religious education classes.
Children in two-thirds of Victorian state primary schools are taught Christian scripture by volunteers, even though the Education Act says state schools must be secular and ”not promote any particular religious practice, denomination or sect”.Advertisement: Story continues below
Parents must sign forms if they want their children to be excluded from ”special religious instruction” classes, 96 per cent of which teach Christianity, with the remaining 4 per cent covered by the Jewish, Buddhist and Baha’i faiths.
Children who do not attend these sessions are not allowed to be taught anything their classmates might miss out on during this time, so they are often put in another room where they read or play on computers.
The Education Act has a special exemption from its secular roots to allow religious education.
But Ms Pike skewered an attempt last year by the Humanist Society of Victoria to have its ”humanist applied ethics” curriculum approved for teaching during the religion period. The course, designed to be taught from prep to year 6, covered subjects such as the art of living, the environment, philosophy, science and world citizenship.
Ms Pike declared that humanism’s ”world-view philosophy [sic] cannot be defined as a religion”, and that the Humanist Society was ”not registered as a religious organisation” and therefore could not ”provide instruction in government schools”. There is, however, no official registration of religions in Australia.
The man responsible for accrediting non-Christian religious teachers, RMIT professor Desmond Cahill, head of the World Conference of Religions for Peace, said, ”We’d consider humanism as a religion since it has an ethical standpoint.”
Ms Pike refused to answer The Sunday Age’s questions about whether she had been targeted by the Christian lobby.
The Greens candidate in Ms Pike’s threatened seat of Melbourne, Brian Walters, told The Sunday Age governments should not use their power to ”privilege or promote any one religion or non-religion in our schools” and said children should not be segregated on the basis of faith.
The Humanist Society of Victoria has obtained legal advice that children who are excluded from scripture classes are being indirectly discriminated against.
Religious education arguably breaches equal opportunity law, the advice says, and causes ”hurt, humiliation and pain and suffering” to children who opt out as they are ”isolated from the rest of the class … with little to do”.
It suggests aggrieved parents take action in the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission and possibly VCAT.
Humanist Society of Victoria president Stephen Stuart said the society was collecting testimony from parents in an attempt to mount a ”convincing class action with hundreds of names”.
Melbourne mother Dina Cragie, who is Jewish, lobbied for Judaism to be offered at her children’s Hawthorn East school, but they were plucked from maths classes to attend. ”I’m not happy with it; it’s a secular school, and the fact that so much time is spent on religious education is baffling to me – and to have to choose between maths and religion offends me,” Ms Cragie said.
”Ultimately you should teach all religions or none.”
Exclusive In an unprecedented effort to crack down on self-serving edits, the Wikipedia supreme court has banned contributions from all IP addresses owned or operated by the Church of Scientology and its associates.
Closing out the longest-running court case (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Requests_for_arbitration/Scientology) in Wikiland history, the site’s Arbitration Committee voted 10 to 0 (with one abstention) in favor of the move, which takes effect immediately.
The eighth most popular site on the web, Wikipedia bills itself as “the free encyclopedia anyone can edit.” Administrators frequently ban (http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/04/29/wikipedia_blocked_doj_ip/) individual Wikifiddlers for their individual Wikisins. And the site’s UK press officer/resident goth (http://wikitruth.info/index.php?title=Image:David_Gerard_mugshot.jpg) once silenced an entire Utah mountain (http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/12/06/wikipedia_and_overstock/) in a bizarre attempt to protect a sockpuppeting ex-BusinessWeek reporter. But according to multiple administrators speaking with The Reg, the muzzling of Scientology IPs marks the first time Wikipedia has officially barred edits from such a high-profile organization for allegedly pushing its own agenda on the site.
The Church of Scientology has not responded to our request for comment.
Officially, Wikipedia frowns on those who edit “in order to promote their own interests.” The site sees itself as an encyclopedia with a “neutral point of view” – whatever that is. “Use of the encyclopedia to advance personal agendas – such as advocacy or propaganda and philosophical, ideological or religious dispute – or to publish or promote original research is prohibited,” say the Wikipowersthatbe.
Admins may ban a Wikifiddler who betrays an extreme conflict of interest, and since fiddlers often hide their identity behind open proxies, such IPs may be banned as a preventative measure. After today’s ruling from the Arbitration Committee – known in Orwellian fashion as the ArbCom – Scientology IPs are “to be blocked as if they were open proxies” (though individual editors can request an exemption).
According to evidence turned up by admins in this long-running Wikiland court case, multiple editors have been “openly editing [Scientology-related articles] from Church of Scientology equipment and apparently coordinating their activities.” Leaning on the famed WikiScanner (http://wikiscanner.virgil.gr/), countless news stories (http://www.forbes.com/2008/07/19/security-hackers-internet-tech-cx_ag_0719wikiwatcher.html) have discussed (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20284811/) the editing of Scientology articles from Scientology IPs, and some site admins are concerned this is “damaging Wikipedia’s reputation for neutrality.”
One admin tells The Reg that policing edits from Scientology machines has been particularly difficult because myriad editors sit behind a small number of IPs and, for some reason, the address of each editor is constantly changing. This prevents admins from determining whether a single editor is using multiple Wikipedia accounts to game the system. In Wikiland, such sockpuppeting is not allowed.
The Wikicourt considered banning edits from Scientology IPs only on Scientology-related articles. But this would require admins to “checkuser” editors – i.e. determine their IP – every time an edit is made. And even then they may not know who’s who.
“Our alternatives are to block them entirely, or checkuser every ‘pro-Scientology’ editor on this topic. I find the latter unacceptable,” wrote one ArbComer. “It is quite broad, but it seems that they’re funneling a lot of editing traffic through a few IPs, which make socks impossible to track.”
And it may be a moot point. Most the editors in question edit nothing but Scientology-related articles. In Wikiparlance, they’re “single purpose accounts.”
Some have argued that those editing from Scientology IPs may be doing so without instruction from the Church hierarchy. But a former member of Scientology’s Office of Special Affairs – a department officially responsible “for directing and coordinating all legal matters affecting the Church” – says the Office has organized massive efforts to remove Scientology-related materials and criticism from the web.
“The guys I worked with posted every day all day,” Tory Christman (http://www.torymagoo.org/) tells The Reg. “It was like a machine. I worked with someone who used five separate computers, five separate anonymous identities…to refute any facts from the internet about the Church of Scientology.”
Christman left the Church in 2000, before Wikipedia was created.
This is the fourth Scientology-related Wikicourtcase in as many years, and in addition to an outright ban on Scientology IPs, the court has barred a host of anti-Scientology editors from editing topics related to the Church.
Many Wikifiddlers have vehemently criticized this sweeping crackdown. Historically, the site’s cult-like (http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/02/06/the_cult_of_wikipedia/) inner circle has aspired to some sort of Web 2.0 utopia in which everyone has an unfettered voice. An organization (http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,293389,00.html) editing Wikipedia articles where it has a conflict of interest is hardly unusual, and in the past such behavior typically went unpunished.
But clearly, Wikipedia is changing. In recent months, the site’s ruling body seems far more interested in quashing at least the most obvious examples (http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/06/06/wikipedia_and_overstock_revisited/) of propaganda pushing (http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/04/29/wikipedia_blocked_doj_ip/).
Scientology’s banishment from Wikipedia comes just days after the opening (http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5i7v1OA-sxTlACtuGXfF6SFbeHEZAD98DDQT04) of a (real world) trial that could see the dissolution of the organization’s French chapter.
Nothing like being true Christians and sharing the holiday spirit by loving one another?
Teachers banned a nine-year-old boy from his class Christmas party because his parents had barred him from RE lessons.
Douglas Stewart was forced to stay at home while his friends received presents from Santa and tucked into ice cream and jelly.
His parents were told he was not welcome at the celebration because they had pulled him out of religious eduction classes earlier in the year.
Headmaster Ian Davidson said that because the youngster had no interest in religion he could not celebrate the birth of Christ.
Furious mother Dawn Riddell, 38, said yesterday: “I’ve helped out at the Christmas party before and it’s got absolutely nothing to do with Jesus. Douglas was heartbroken he couldn’t go. It was cruel.”