The Victorian State government this weekend announced that special religious instruction in state schools will no longer be taught during class time, effectively killing off scripture classes in Victoria. I assume it is only a matter of time until this is the case across the nation.
Special religious instruction is one of the last vestiges of the era of Christendom. Although many religions now provide SRI, the model as I understand it is still one where students are enrolled in the study of a single religion taught by proponents of that religion, and in the case of Christianity a large part of the motivation for Scripture teachers is that children will come to faith in Christ. I certainly want to see children, youth, and adults come the faith in Christ, but I agree with those who argue that SRI does not belong in secular schools.
But this does not mean we should banish the teaching of religion from our schools. Religion is an important part of how people both past and present construct meaning and form values, and as a result it should be part of the school curriculum. The caveat I would place on this is that religion is not simply a set of beliefs, but something that is a lived experience. It therefore makes sense for the curriculum to include guests who share what their faith means in their life and how it functions. In this way children will learn about Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, and will be better equipped to understand those who hold to faith traditions other than their own.
I suspect this is probably what we should be arguing for now. Attempts to defend special religious instruction may see the practice of prolonged for a few years, but will almost certainly lose the argument in the long run. The danger then will be that the baby will be thrown out with the bathwater, religion won’t be taught at all, and our society will be the worse for it.