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Picture above: Back: Bishop Mark Short, Prakash Mehta (President of the Hindu Council), Murray Norman (CEO, Better Balanced Futures), Andrew Guile (ADS Director Risk). Front: Professor Suzanne Rutland (Sydney University), Professor Zehavit Gross (Bar-llan University Israel), Heather Walsh (ADS Director School Operations and Development).

Our Diocese is developing new partnerships in response to research which found that more needs to be done to address religious bullying in our schools.

Following the Parramatta launch of a report based on the 2021 publication, Special Religious Education in Australia and its Value to Contemporary Society, our Diocese was pleased to welcome the authors, Professors Zehavit Gross and Suzanne D Rutland to speak about their research findings. Professor Gross is visiting Australia from the School of Education Barllan University, Israel and Emeritus Professor Rutland is from the Department of Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies at the University of Sydney.

There is a clear message emerging from the research which included a McCrindle online survey of 999 Australians: Our school students are faced with challenges with religious discrimination in Australia occurring in the playground. Young people report having felt teased or made fun of at school because of their religion or how they practice their faith. It is younger generations – Gen X, Y and Z – where up to a third are more likely to face discrimination because of their religious views.

The issue is becoming more pressing as Australia has seen significant migration population growth in communities from East, South and Southeast Asia. The proportion of Australians affiliated with religions other than Christianity is growing as confirmed by the most recent census results.

Murray Norman, CEO of Better Balanced Futures who initiated the discussion, said, ‘Better Balanced Futures is committed to engaging with and educating families, parents, communities and carers about the provision and access to Special Religious Education (SRE) across NSW for all faith groups. Our aim is to assist families to understand and value what is being taught in their child’s SRE classes and to appreciate that SRE is fun, valuable and worth attending. SRE teachers are caring and positive role models whose vision is to enrich children’s life and thinking.

‘Religious education in schools provides a safe place for children to learn about and explore their own religious identity, which legitimises their voice and choice of faith. It reinforces social cohesion of the school and generally in Australian society.

‘We hope to convince governments that what is required to address religious bullying is a centre of excellence that will resource principals across all school sectors, as well as training for teachers in addressing this as a serious issue.

‘It has been wonderful working with Bishop Mark and his team in the Diocese to effectively address instances of this behaviour as they occur. We also recognise the potential, that with St Mark’s National Theological Centre situated here in Canberra, we are well placed to develop strategies to address the religious bullying of our young people,’ said Mr Norman.

Bishop Mark said, ‘Our Diocese is called to engage a world of difference with the love and truth of Jesus. Part of that calling is ensuring that young people are free to explore and express their own faith commitments safely and I hope these conversations are just the first step in working together towards that goal.’

by Andrew Guile, ADS Director of Risk and Compliance


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