Victorian Liberal Premier Ted Baillieu has decided his Government will support religious education in schools on an opt-out basis.
The decision is a re-interpretation of an act passed by the previous Labor Government; in short, the approach has turned from "may" to "must".
Opt Out Options
I have a real problem with the whole concept of "opt-out" schemes or legislation. An opt-out scheme has also been proposed at a federal level with respect to organ donation.
Some years ago, I received a notice from my superannuation fund telling me a portion of my contributions will be set aside for life insurance and if I do not want this to happen I had to opt out in writing by the date [deadline] given in the letter. Forgetting the very real probability that some would receive this notice late or not at all, this goes against the whole substance of contract law, which requires three things:
- The person wishing to sell something may put a price on it as 'an invitation to treat [bargain]"; and
- The potential buyer must then make an "offer"; and
- The seller must accept the offer ["acceptance"].
In broader terms, if we are talking about organ donation or religious instruction, an "opt-out" approach, means if we want to be free, we must first register our desire to be free.
The opt out approach to religious instruction seems a bit much from people who supposedly believe god gave us all "free will".
The value of a set of values
Providing some sort of religious instruction - on a voluntary basis - is an idea that has merit. Just one good reason is that if we don't know religious stories or beliefs, we'll never get a laugh out of religious jokes.
Religion also has a heck of a lot to do with history. For those of us with an English heritage, it is an important factor in the story of Henry the VIII.
The line "all men are created equal" in the American Declaration of Independence was never meant to help slaves [or even women], instead, it was an argument against the British belief in the Divine Right of Kings.
A study of comparative religions can help explain why Jewish people have been praised and then unjustifiably damned, repeatedly in the history of the west. It would also help explain the rise and fall of the Ottoman Empire, the Crusades, and the excesses of the Inquisition.
A proper study of comparative religion would extend to the evolution of beliefs over time as standards of living and access to education change.
In an ideal world, everyone would be exposed to some set of decent values as they are growing up - not necessarily religious - which will allow them to judge right from wrong. An adjunct of this is that everyone should have a rite of passage which provides a chance to focus on the transition from childhood to adulthood, and the increased responsibilities that go with an increase in privileges.
There was a time when that rite of passage occurred in a worldly sense at the age of 21. In a spiritual sense, this rite of passage in many cultures or religions occurs at the onset of puberty.
In too many cases today, the rite of passage is the result of peer pressure and amounts to the first time someone does something stupid, like taking drugs, getting drunk, or doing something violent.
A decent set of examples might be provided in the home, or it might not. Granting half a million dollars over four years, primarily to a group hell bent on conversion to one religion is a recipe for disaster.
Every religion has something positive to offer. Blind faith has not.