PATHWAYS: a new faith and freethought project

By Paul Tonson

"I took the road less travelled and that has made all the difference" (Robert Frost)

At the Humanist Society of Victoria's Sunday meeting on 11 May, . . . two members of the PATHWAYS Coalition for Diversity Education demonstrated the
PATHWAYS presentation designed for Year 10 students.

The presentation opened with personal stories, from a Christian viewpoint by Paul Tonson, coordinator of the PATHWAYS Coalition, and from a Humanist perspective by Sam Mason-Smith, a member of the HSV committee. In response, the HSV audience was invited to simulate a Year 10 class by asking
questions to the presenters.

The PATHWAYS Coalition is launching a program of such presentations, especially aimed at government schools. Arrangements for presentations will be made by personal approaches to school principals and senior teachers, in order to ensure understanding of the program and to adapt it to each local school.

The emergence of the PATHWAYS Coalition corresponds to a watershed in the realm of dialogue between different world views. Such dialogue has emerged through the ecumenical movement of the early twentieth century, through cooperation between Jews and Christians after World War II, and through conversations with Islam after the disaster of "Nine Eleven" [11 September 2001]. Now throughout Greater Melbourne there are 24 municipalities with Interfaith groups covering all faiths, and there are 7 in regional Victoria.

Key leaders in interfaith cooperation in Australia are advocating the
inclusion of Humanist and Rationalist voices alongside faith in contributing
to public policy. Cooperation between faith and freethought groups emerged
in October 2010 with a submission to the Victorian Multicultural Commission
regarding Citizenship in a Multicultural Victoria. The submission was signed
by adherents of both faith and freethought world views and by several
leading academics.

There are ten faith and freethought groups that have given formal
support to PATHWAYS, including the HSV. Stephen Stuart is a key member of
the PATHWAYS management team. Each supporting group is committed to a
protocol whereby presenters show mutual respect and present information
about their own world view without argumentation.

The PATHWAYS Coalition represents a common concern in the realm of public education. On the one hand, we seek an alternative to a system that tends to privilege one faith, Christianity. On the other hand, we consider that all students should have education about beliefs, religions and ethics (BREE) that covers major religions and enlightenment worldviews.

The PATHWAYS Coalition offers the voices of Abrahamic and Asian faiths alongside Humanist, Rationalist and Atheist voices. It deliberately includes the voices of Indigenous spirituality and of sustainability activism, both of which are significant for young people in contemporary Australia. Schools may nominate their preferred combination of three voices.

The PATHWAYS program is one way schools can demonstrate and encourage the general capabilities identified in the new Australian curriculum: Intercultural Understanding, Ethical Understanding, Critical and Creative Thinking, and Personal and Social Capabilities.

PATHWAYS Coalition for Diversity Education presenters share faith and freethought world views, showing mutual respect, to Year 10 students.

To support PATHWAYS or become a presenter,

e-mail Paul:

From the Victorian Humanist (Melbourne), 53 (5), June 2014: 6 & 7.
Newsletter of the Humanist Society of Victoria

Editor: Rosslyn Ives,

Assistant Editor: Inga Anthonipillai


Five Wishes for a dignified death

Jill Stark

A good death has no formula. Inevitability is the only shared truth. For some, it maybe a no-fuss, painless drifting into another realm. Others might see it as a celebration: their favourite music ringing out in a room packed with loved ones.

But as the debate around end-of-life care intensifies, many are leaving little to chance, and turning to safeguards they hope will help them die well.

While once, decisions on medical treatment and pain relief were the only things to consider when writing advance-care plans - which outline wishes in the case of incapacitation or terminal illness - increasingly, people are recording detailed instructions on how they want their emotional and spiritual needs attended to in their final days.

Five Wishes, dubbed the “advance-care directive with a soul”, is the latest movement to hit Australia, having proved so popular in the United States that more than 19 million people have signed the not-for-profit’s end-of-life planning forms.

Launched here last week, its personalised, less clinical approach to the business of dying appears to be its draw card, with users able to record explicit wishes on every-thing from who they want to forgive on their deathbed, to whether they want to be massaged with warm oils or have poetry read to them.

While the first two “wishes” deal with legal and medical treatment matters, the other three are more holistic and include clauses such as how often the signatory wants to have their hair brushed or teeth cleaned, who they do, and do not, want in the room when they die, and what happens to a person’s social media accounts after they are gone.

“It attends to the personal side of end of life.” - John Kumnick

For John Kumnick and his wife Anne, from Doncaster, who are both in good health but mindful of not being a burden to their two daughters at the end of their lives, creating a Five Wishes living will was a collaborative, family decision that gave them peace of mind.

“I’ve seen other documents that are very clinical: name of doctor, name of lawyer, preferred funeral director, bank accounts and all that sort of stuff, which is technical and procedural. This is a more humane document: it attends to the personal side of end of life, and that appeals to us,” Mr Kumnick said.

Christina Widuckel, chief executive of Colbrow Healthcare - a nursing and care service that brought Five Wishes to Australia - said there was a growing appetite for personalised end-of-life planning.

“We noticed that most other advance-care directives and planning tools were very much focused on people’s illness, and they really only came into effect when someone was sick,” she said. “But dying is not a medical experience, it’s a human experience. Five Wishes is very much focused on mind, body and spirit, not just the person’s illness. It’s a much more gentle way of introducing the topic of end-of-life care.”

However, there are concerns that, as more versions of advance-care directives become available, their legal weight will be diminished.

About 7 per cent of Australians are believed to have an advance-care directive, with their legal standing varying from state to state. In Victoria, refusal-of-treatment orders are covered by statutory law and apply to current and future illnesses. But the robustness of documents such as Five Wishes, which are covered by common law, has yet to be tested.

End-of-life care specialist Associate Professor Bill Silvester, who founded the Austin Hospital’s Respecting Patient Choices advanced-care directive, said evidence from New South Wales, where 40 such documents exist, suggested more choice was not always helpful.

“The concern about having all these different forms is that it ends up being confusing for patients and for doctors,” he said. “We’re now working with the state government to have a standard, uniform, simple advance-care directive document used right across the state. It makes it easier for people to understand and it also means it’s more likely the doctors are going to follow it.”

He said he was also concerned that long documents with “warm and fuzzy” details were unlikely to be taken into account in critical situations: “If I’m a doctor in the emergency department and I’m having to get on and make urgent decisions, or in the intensive care unit, to be honest, I just don’t think people are going to follow it because they’re just not going to have the time.”


“Jesus is a person, not just a swear word”

Michael Lallo

A video aimed at raising community support for religious instruction in state schools, made by its main provider, Access Ministries, has gone viral after being posted on YouTube.

The video, hosted by Access Ministries CEO Dr Evonne Paddison, has fuelled debate about religious education and the school chaplaincy program.

In the two-and-a-half-minute video, Dr Paddison argues: “[Children] deserve to know that Jesus is a person, not just a swear word.”

Despite an Essential poll this week finding just 5 per cent of Australians support the Abbott government's decision to fund only religious chaplains in non-religious schools, Dr Paddison urged viewers to sign a petition in its support.

The video features a Christian chaplain called Brett Cardwell, who says: “If you’ve got a heart for children, you need to support chaplaincy. Without chaplaincy, where would [the children] go? Who can they talk to?”

Dr Paddison opens the video by saying, “I can’t imagine an Australia where ‘Jesus’ is just a word people use when they swear.” Later, when urging viewers to sign the petition, she says: “Let it be known that our children deserve the care of a chaplain - and they deserve to know that Jesus is a person, not just a swear word.”

Dr Paddison also speaks of “media attacks”, saying “some sections of the media seem to make taking [Christian religious education] away from kids a key news priority.”

She then refers to “yet another High Court challenge to the pro-gram”. (There have been two.)

The video sparked heated discussion after it was posted on Youtube on Friday by Fairness in Religion in Schools. Lara Wood, the group’s campaign co-ordinator, said stating Christian beliefs as fact, including stating that Jesus is real, constitutes proselytizing.

“Children take things like that literally, especially five-year-olds,” she said. “There’s a volunteer agreement drawn up between Access and the Department of Education that forbids statements like that; they breach it all the time.”

But Access Ministries acting CEO Dawn Penney told Fairfax Media: “The reality of Jesus is central to Christian faith . . . to declare this belief, which is held to be true by over 2 billion people across the planet is not proselytizing. It is sharing what we believe.”

Ms Penney said that if her volunteers were allowed to share the tenets of their faith but leave out Jesus, “what is left”?

But critics of this type of religious instruction argue state school students should be taught about all religions, not just Christianity.

Fairfax Media reported on Saturday [31 May] that Access Ministries threatened FIRIS with legal action after the group posted Access’s religious teaching materials online.


Christian group threatens parents

Konrad Marshall

A powerful Christian organisation has threatened a small grassroots parent group with legal action for posting its religious curriculum book online.

The main provider of religious instruction in state schools, Access Ministries, this week warned activists from Fairness in Religion in Schools (FIRIS) to remove a copy of its teaching materials from their web site.

Access Ministries, which delivers “Christian Religious Education” to around 90,000 Victorian primary students, contacted FIRIS after learning that a digital copy of its Launch Red 1 teacher book was available for download.

“We are very disappointed to see this clear breach of copyright law,” said Access Ministries acting CEO Dawn Penney. “In line with our rights under law we have asked that the material be removed within 21 days.”

The leaders of FIRIS, however, were initially reluctant to meet the terms of the cease-and-desist letter from Access Ministries, which also delivers the controversial chaplaincy program in schools.

“Access is using its taxpayer funds to sue a grassroots group run by ordinary mums and dads.” - Lara Wood

FIRIS explained to Fairfax Media that they did not post the material for commercial gain but to offer parents “informed consent” before enrolling their children in the weekly 30-minute religious instruction classes.

“Parents have never been able to know what is taught to their children in SRI classes, and Access has now taken steps to shut down the only way that parents could look at the books,” said campaign co-ordinator Lara Wood. “Access is using its taxpayer funds to sue a grassroots group run by ordinary mums and dads.”

Access Ministries, however, pointed out that although they do not post the full set of lessons, they do offer an overview and a short “sample curriculum” online.

“We feel that no one is above the law and that this obvious breach by FIRIS required a response by us,” said Ms Penney.

The spat has also prompted FIRIS to renew its calls for the Education Department to immediately enforce the terms of a ministerial direction handed down earlier this month, which requires SRI providers to make learning materials available to families.

The Education Department called for patience, noting that the ministerial direction does not take effect until 14 July. At that time a new consent form will be offered to families, with a link to learning materials.


Resident threatens Docklands street artist

Karl Quinn

As loading bays go, there can't be many more colourful, vibrant or intriguing than the one at the Quays, a new apart­ment development in [Melbourne's] Docklands. But like beauty, sacrilege, it seems, is in the eye of the beholder.

One resident of the building is so offended by the two wall murals by Adrian Doyle that she has demanded they be painted over. Immediately.

If they are not, she claims, she will be "pursuing this matter formally through the Human Rights and Equal Oppor­tunity Commission and the media".

Along with a yet-to-be-installed sculpture by Callum Morton, the mur­als from Doyle, the entrepreneurial street artist behind the Blender gallery and Melbourne's street art tours, were commissioned by the building's design­ers, McBride Charles Ryan. Doyle was paid about $10,000 for the works, which took him and an associate about a month to complete.

"These images ridicule the Christian faith and degrade women." - Docklands resident

On Tuesday night [27 May], the owners cor­poration heard a submission from the resident, a lawyer, that the works are sacrilegious (one features a depiction of a Christ figure crucified on a tele­graph pole) [see attachment] and racially offensive (the other features an infant crying; the complainant has interpreted this child as being indigenous, though Doyle in­sists she is not). She has also taken issue with an image of a woman hang­ing out the washing.

"These images in the context of the entire mural depict Australia, in partic­ular Docklands and our building, as a Christian-hating, sexist, racist and op­pressive society," the resident wrote. "These images ridicule the Christian faith and degrade women, and I am dis­gusted to think that this is what mem­bers of the public would think the resid­ents of the Quays support." Doyle had already agreed to replace the face of the Christ figure - modelled on his own father, and meant to repres­ent "all that he sacrificed for me" - with a Ned Kelly mask, but is resisting all other efforts to alter his work. The owners corporation is understood to be taking the matter very seriously.

For Doyle, there's a certain irony in all this. No shrinking violet, he most re­cently courted attention last September when he painted the entirety of Rutledge Lane, which runs into the more famous Hosier Lane, pale blue, obliterating the work of many of his fellow street artists.

"Yeah, of course I see the irony in the situation," he says. "But that was a very different context. I wasn't go­ing over major art works. Some people might argue against that, but it's true."

That gesture, which had the support of lord mayor Robert Doyle (no relation) and some street artists, but drew opprobrium from others, was about rejuvenation. His "work" - he called the colour "nursery blue", and describes it as "representing my nephew Beau, who drowned in our family swimming pool" - was never intended to last. Within 45 minutes, the first tags had begun to appear on top of it.

The murals at the basement of the Quays are a different matter. Like his 49-metre-long wall mural outside Crown, officially unveiled by Robert Doyle in June 2012, it is a serious work that explores the suburban dream. The Christ figure is meant to be his father, "because of all he sacrificed for me". The Howard Arkley-style house is, he says, modelled after his nanna's. The coastline is his home town, Frankston [metropolitan Melbourne].

It's not hard to see how those images might resonate in an environment that has, for many, supplanted the tradition­al notion of home ownership in Austra­lia. And several residents have in fact written to Doyle to expresstheir support.

"It is meant to ruffle a few feathers," Doyle says of his work, but "I'd be very upset if it got painted over.

"I'll go all the way with it if I have to," he adds defiantly. "If they want to take it to the court, I'll just have to do it."


Education Federal funding increase for Christian chaplaincy group

Benjamin Preiss [and] Ben Butler

The group that provides chaplains and Christian religious instruction to Victorian schools expects a surge in demand after the federal government revealed plans to re-move the option for schools to hire a non-religious welfare worker.

Accounts filed by Access Ministries showed it has already reaped the benefits of increased federal chaplaincy grants, which have turned around its finances after running at a loss for four consecutive years.

The latest financial statement from Access Ministries showed it was given $5.7 million by the federal government for the 2013 calendar year, compared with about $5 million for 2012.

The government has allocated $245 million over five years for the national chaplaincy program in the budget.

Access Ministries’ acting chief executive Dawn Penney said the increase in federal grants was due to the expansion of the National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Program and new schools joining from June 2012.

“The program is so highly valued.” - Dawn Penney

Ms Penney said the guidelines for the program for the coming three years were yet to be released.

“However, we expect all of our current schools to be able to re-apply for funding, along with even more schools as the program is so highly valued by school communities,” she said.

Grants from the state government fell by more than $48,000 in 2013 to about $635,000.

Remuneration to “key management personnel” rose from $842,849 to $910,955. Ms Penney said the management team included eight people in 2013.
“Some positions were vacant during 2012 and 2013 saw us return to a full compliment,” she said.

“This figure includes salary, compulsory superannuation and all on-costs associated with an employee.”

Australian Education Union Victorian branch deputy president Justin Mullaly said the existing chaplaincy arrangements allowed schools to hire secular welfare staff. “Often that was in the form of a social worker or psychologist,” he said. “It allowed schools to get the professionals they needed.”

He said the union opposed the changes the federal government plans to introduce. Mr Mullaly said schools with students from diverse religious backgrounds could be disadvantaged if they were able to hire only religious chaplains who were mostly likely to represent a Christian faith.

He said the money allocated to Access Ministries could be better spent elsewhere in the education system. That sum could hire about 50 teachers, Mr Mullaly said.

Parents Victoria executive officer Gail McHardy said she was astounded the federal government had given Access Ministries more than $5 million for 2013.

She said schools should continue to have the option of hiring secular chaplains under the program.


Abortion debate dodgers just moral cowards, says Shaw

Henrietta Cook [and] Richard Willingham

Balance-of-power MP Geoff Shaw has demanded a fresh debate on Victoria’s abortion laws, revealing that he warned Premier Denis Napthine in a private meeting that governments dodging the issue were “moral cowards”.

The Frankston MP is back from a taxpayer-supported study trip to the United States, where he met pro-life advocates in Georgia and Nevada. “I learnt over there that governments that don’t debate the abortion issue and become] pro-life are moral cowards,” he said.

Mr Shaw met the Premier on Tuesday but it remains unclear if he will introduce a private member's bill to outlaw gender selection and late-term abortions, and require doctors to resuscitate babies who survive late terminations.

The former Liberal turned independent MP said Dr Napthine had intimidated Coalition MPs by releasing a YouTube video in December declaring the government had no intention of introducing legislation that would “reduce a woman’s right to choose”.

“It makes it harder for Liberal Party people to vote with a conscience,” he said.

After their meeting Dr Napthine said he “knew nothing” about a report alleging the parliamentary privileges committee investigation into Mr Shaw would be released this week.

Mr Shaw told The Age he was considering going to the police to ask them to investigate multiple leaks of sensitive details to the media from the committee.

On Tuesday [27 May] Dr Napthine said the government did not know if a bill on changing abortion laws was being introduced.


“Monks” in scam

Tammy Mills

Scam artists pretending to be Bud­dhist monks are duping Melburnians and visitors to the central business district. Con­sumer Affairs Victoria and the Buddhist Council of Victoria have issued a warning about con men in robes asking for money in ex­change for prayer beads, amulets and spiritual guidebooks.

Buddhist council spokeswoman Susan Wirawan said they had re­ceived numerous complaints in the past six months. “Monks do go out on the road and look for
alms, but usually they accept food. They don’t go out soliciting [money],” she said.

A Consumer Affairs spokes­woman said if people had doubts they should donate direct to organ­isations.


Shaw catches up with controversial doctor

Nick O’Malley - United States correspondent

Victorian balance-of-power MP Geoff Shaw met one of America’s most controversial Tea Patty-backed congressmen during a United States study tour of abortion laws, Fairfax Media has learnt.

In a photograph posted on the Facebook page of pro-life group Georgia Right to Life, Mr Shaw is pictured beside Paul Broun, a medical doctor best known for accusing US President Barack Obama of seeking to create a dictatorship and for his extreme stance against science.

During a 2012 election rally, the congressman from Georgia in the Deep South, famously declared: “All that stuff I was taught about evolution,
embryology, the Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell. And it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a saviour.”

In the photograph, posted on 16 May, Mr Shaw stands next to Dr Broun and his wife Niki, before a banner reading, “Georgia Right to Life”. The caption underneath reads: “At Georgia Right to Life we always seek to bring the message of Personhood to others, even if they’re not from our home state. Today we were honoured to have Geoff Shaw, a member of Parliament from Australia, visiting with us to learn more about what we do to protect the preborn and how he can bring the strategies we use back to Australia with him.”

A staff member for the organisation was unable to say if Mr Shaw and Congressman Broun spoke at any length or met in passing.

When contacted on Saturday morning [24 May], a spokesman for Mr Shaw said the independent member for Frankston was on a plane returning from the
US and he had little detail on his two-week trip, partially taxpayer funded.

Mr Shaw plans to introduce a private member’s bill before the November state election, which would outlaw gender selection and late-term abortions
and require doctors to resuscitate babies who survive abortion attempts.

American pro-life campaigners have enjoyed significant success against abortion. Recent laws passed in Georgia prevent women covered by the state employees’ insurance agency from getting coverage for terminations in almost all cases, including rape and incest. They impose a 24-hour waiting
period for women seeking an abortion and mandate women be given literature on alternatives to abortion as well controversial advice on how foetuses
feel pain.

According to earlier reports, Mr Shaw’s trip also took him through Ohio, another state considered to be on the front line of the US debate over abortion. No post-viability abortions are allowed and waiting periods and counselling on alternatives are also mandated. State employee health plans may not cover the procedure and girls may not have abortions without parental consent. Women seeking abortion must be offered the chance to see a foetal ultrasound and hear the foetus’s heartbeat.

The advocacy group NARAL Pro Choice America gives Ohio an F grade for its abortion laws.

But it is understood Mr Shaw also visited two states with comparatively liberal abortion laws, Nevada and New York.

Last week Mr Broun, a member of the US House of Representatives, failed to win a primary run-off to contest a Senate seat. Some Republican analysts feared he might have cost the Republican Party a Senate seat at the November midterm elections because of his extreme views.

With Jill Stark


Victoria to consider gay adoption

Henrietta Cook [and] Farrah Tomazin

Premier Denis Napthine says he is not opposed to same-sex couples adopting children in Victoria, but is waiting for some “proper science” before the government decides whether to change the law.

Days after state Labor endorsed a policy platform in favour of legalising gay adoption in Victoria, Dr Napthine was not philosophically opposed to the idea, saying “the modern family today is quite different to the nuclear family of the 1950s”.

In a move welcomed by human rights groups, the government will examine the matter in coming months, with research being undertaken by Liberal MP Clem Newton-Brown and a parliamentary intern.


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