This morning on breakfast-news TV* there was discussion of the ethics class issue, between a representative from the NSW Council of Churches and another fellow whose affiliation I didn't catch but I presume to be representing the St. James Centre - the group that designed the syllabus for the ethics class trial.
*(this was on ABC2 - the ABC is basically a government-owned but editorially independent national broadcaster - their breakfast news and current affairs coverage is substantially more serious than on the commercial networks, which tend to be more like the US network-style breakfast programs - a glossy entertainment magazine of celebrities, diets and other ephemera)
Well, the guy from the Council of Churches was pretty upset that the government was going to go ahead and implement the recommendations, but his central objection was telling. He stated that the biggest problem was that the students *currently* getting religious instruction ("scripture class") *would have the option to take the ethics class*.
That's right - he was objecting primarily to parents having the choice, if their child was currently going to religious classes. But he didn't actually explain why the choice was bad.
Why is this? Well, the problem was he couldn't raise a serious objection to the kids not currently in religious classes having the choice of attending the ethics class instead of doing nothing (though he did attack the content of the syllabus also) - the interviewer asked him specifically what objection he could raise to then having the choice. So he was only left with the fact that the kids not already sitting out the various forms of available religious instruction would be able to choose to opt for ethics classes as well. [The church lobbhy have even argued at one point that the kids in religious classes would miss out on instruction in ethics (!) ... oops. Er, no, we didn't mean to say we don't teach that.]
This choice is a problem for the churches. While about 20% of Australians list no religion on the census, many of the ones in NSW still have their children attend school religious classes for a variety of reasons. There is also an even larger group that do have a nominal religion and list it on the census (i.e. they list whatever religion ran the religious class they attended themselves when they were children, which would have been the church one of their parents actually attended at some point) - these "nominally religious" people do send their kids to religious instruction - but many of them would choose not to if there was a serious alternative.
Provided sufficient volunteers can be found to run the ethics classes, this could easily halve the attendance at religious instruction (it's what they feared before the trial began, and it's what actually happened).
Hardly anyone actually goes to church any more (to my recollection, something like 10% of Australians attend church more than twice a year, other than weddings and funerals - and most weddings and funerals aren't even held in churches any more). Apart from that core, the rest of the kids are "up for grabs", and they know parents will vote with their feet.
Sundary school is largely a wasteland. The religious classes are, for many, the only place the churches have to get their hooks in... so they're hanging on for dear life to the one really solid free shot at impressionable minds they've got - an advantage they've had entrenched in legislation for 150 years now. The legislation won't change, but for the first time there will be an alternative to religious instruction for those who opt out of religious class, and many, many more are going to take that option.
They're afraid (and they made that quite clear) that free choice will mean an even more rapid demise than they're experiencing now. And they're doing whatever it takes to make sure that doesn't happen.
Hell hath no fury like a vested interest masquerading as a moral principle