Yesterday the Sydney Morning Herald wrote this article about NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli’s decision to disallow the Gayby Baby documentary from being shown during school hours. Mark Powell had this to share in response.
Let me correct one major error that keeps getting repeated – i.e. that no complaints were made to the Department of Education. It’s not true and the reason I know it’s not true is because I personally know a number of people, myself included, who rang the school to complain. Maybe there’s a technical difference between “complaining” and lodging a formal complaint but that is what we were trying to do.
More to the point on Monday the 24th of August the Rev David Maher called a public meeting of concerned parents as well as local community members. Fifteen people showed up with a number of other parents sending their apologies. As a direct result of that meeting Rev Maher wrote to the school on everyone’s behalf and personally delivered the letter to the school. So the fact is, lots of people complained and I am told still are.
The other thing I should point out is that when I said in the June edition of our church magazine that schools were a strategic place to minister I was talking about “church” schools that my own denomination runs. I am extremely proud of what they do and as the retiring moderator I wanted to encourage people with how well they are functioning.
This whole thing started when I received an email from a parent of the school stating that on Friday the 28th of August classes for all years would be canceled for two periods and everyone was instructed to wear purple clothing as well as eat purple cup cakes and then join in a special parade “under the rainbow flag.” Initially there was no “opt out.” (Note, currently you have to “opt in” to go to SRE). Later though the school sent out another communication saying you could “opt out” of viewing the film but not regarding participation in the rest of the day.
Now please hear me. I want to stop the harassment and discrimination of students no matter what their background. As a Christian I don’t think that bullying or vilifying others is ever acceptable. The problem is you don’t CREATE TOLERANCE BY ENFORCING ACCEPTANCE. That only leads to tyranny. So for us the issue was freedom of speech and in particular not having anyone’s conscience coerced into compliance. In trying to stamp out bullying by enforcing compliance to accept a different worldview to their own is ironically just another form of bullying.
The motivation for me being involved in the events of last week really did not have anything to do with “retaliation” as the SMH article implies. My whole aim in being involved in the events of last week was to give a voice to those who felt too intimidated to speak. A lot of parents are still too fearful to speak out for fear their children will be treated negatively by the school. In fact, some I have spoken too are now considering leaving.
True, I was the chairman of the Inner West Scripture Board and I was involved with negotiations with the current Principal when she discontinued the paid Scripture worker in the school. What’s more we did formally appeal her decision to the area director. Were we disappointed with the decision? Sure, because the Principal admitted to us that she “didn’t care what the department guidelines said” and was going to do whatever she wanted.
What is becoming increasingly clear to me over the past week or so, is that the Safe Schools Coalition and the Wear it Purple Day are organizations who are operating against the education department’s own guidelines.
Mark Powell is a Presbyterian Minister in Strathfield, NSW.