Political row raises spectre of paganism in religious ed classes

The Federal Education Minister has threatened Queensland with education funding cuts over fears that the State's proposed changes to a century-old law governing religious education would open the floodgates for paganism and witchcraft.

The Courier Mail reports that Minister Julie Bishop (pictured) will threaten the state with funding cuts at an Education Ministers' conference scheduled for Brisbane in July if the law is tampered with.

"We provide billions of dollars of funding each year," she said. "It is fair enough that we have our say on the issue."

Ms Bishop fears witchcraft and other fringe religions could enter the classroom if the Bill is not stopped.

And she has accused the Queensland Government of hastening a tide of students moving away from the public system to the private.

"Political correctness has gone too far when religious education at school now permits almost any belief system to be taught, including witchcraft and paganism," she said.

But the State Government already appears to be watering down the controversial legislation, which also came under attack from the State Opposition last week.

"She's boxing at shadows," Education Minister Rod Welford said yesterday. "We are not planning any substantial changes."

Ms Bishop said the Bill before the Queensland Parliament was a blatant attack on religious education and moral values in schools.

She said proposed changes to the state's Education Act got rid of the "opt out" on religious education system where student's parents could inform the school they did not want religious education for their children.

The proposed "opt in" system forced parents to provide a school principal with a written notice if they wanted their child to receive religious education.

"The proposed changes also widen the definition of what can be taught to religious or other belief," Ms Bishop said. "This would now allow cults and fringe groups to register and begin teaching their beliefs to Queensland schoolchildren."

Ms Bishop said Queensland schoolchildren should not be taught in a moral vacuum "imposed by political correctness gone mad".

Mr Welford said he would be happy to meet Ms Bishop and listen to what she had to say in July.

Holy war in class (The Courier Mail 22/5/06)

Religion in Schools (ABC Radio The Religion Report 10/5/06)
Catholic schools 'provide values' (BBC 18/5/06)
Shock waves (Online Catholics 17/5/06)

22 May 2006