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PRIMARY school children think they will “burn in hell” and are tormented by gruesome images of Jesus on the Cross after having religious instruction classes, parents say.
Dozens of Queensland families have complained about the public school classes to Macquarie University researcher Dr Catherine Byrne.
One parent said their six-year-old child was shown “graphic and violent crucifixion material”.
“(He) suffered nightmares and anxiety about death for 10 months – he believed everything he was being told – including that he would burn in hell,” they said.
Another parent said they had tried to withdraw their child from religious instruction but their seven-year-old daughter kept being put back in. After learning about atrocities in the Bible, they say their daughter was told “the Jews had it coming to them”.
Another parent said the child of the religious instruction teacher told their son he would burn in hell before stabbing him with a pencil.
Dr Byrne is collecting stories from people who have made or are considering making a formal complaint. It will be compiled for a post-doctoral research project on religion in public education.
She said she’s spoken to about 24 Queensland families, as well as many more NSW families in the past, and that there are nation-wide problems with religious education.
“This is a national problem and a national disgrace,” she said.
“I would say these parents are just the tip of the iceberg. A lot of parents are frightened (about speaking out) because this is their kid’s school, they don’t want to put their education at risk.
“They’re not sure who to talk to about it (and) many parents would be completely unaware of what’s happening.”
The Anglican Church of Australia’s Brisbane Diocese, which trains some of the state’s religious education teachers, said its curriculum did not mention hell, divorce, Creationism or other contentious topics and that in its experience people going “off topic” were “isolated cases”.
“Specific training for teachers targets handling contentious off-topic questions and using language carefully to be inclusive of different beliefs,” a spokesman said.
“Whilst there may be cases of RE teachers going off-topic, the Diocese’s experience is that these are isolated cases.
“The vast majority of RE teachers are caring people only interested in ensuring a rounded education for Queensland children and young people. Such a rounded education includes the field of religion, a major shaping influence in diverse areas such as history, the arts and our communities.”
Dr Byrne’s earlier research in NSW found children were told that worshipping “fake gods” other than the Christian God was a sin, that other countries have “disgusting customs” and that “God gets angry at men who marry foreign women”.
There were reports in 2010 that Queensland primary school children were taught Creationism; that man and dinosaurs walked the Earth together.
RI is optional in Queensland but parents complain that children who opt out of the classes are left unsupervised, that children are enticed in with lollies, and one family is considering homeschooling so they don’t feel “odd” for opting out of RI.
RI is separate to the Government’s controversial chaplaincy program.
Dr Byrne said children should learn about other faiths without being indoctrinated. She described Australia as “pathetically behind the times” because other countries can teach religion on a secular way.
“Public schooling is not for indoctrination,” she said.
“It’s about critical thinking, learning about the world around you, learning about kids who are different to you.”
She said she had met with government officials but they were “too frightened” about losing the Christian lobby vote to intervene.
Education Queensland told News.com.au that schools must allow religious instruction and that parents are free to withdraw their children from classes at any time.
“RI is only to be provided to students in state primary, secondary and special schools whose parents have nominated that faith group on enrollment or to students whose parents have given written permission for their children to attend,” Assistant Director General Marg Pethiyagoda said.
“State schools respect the background and beliefs of all students and staff by not promoting, or being perceived as promoting, any particular set of beliefs in preference to another.”