The Sydney diocese is atypical of the Anglican Church in Australia, both in the evangelical version of Christianity that it promotes and in its highly conservative views on social issues. As if to underscore the latter, its bishop is currently opposing the introduction of ethics classes into NSW schools as a voluntary alternative to scripture lessons provided by local ministers. Apparently the bish is scared that the ethics course will prove too popular and undermine scripture attendance. That must not be allowed to happen, it seems - so the scripture lessons have to be propped up by not giving NSW schoolchildren and their parents any alternative.
Worse than the above, the NSW government is taking notice, and has given the Bishop of Sydney some kind of opportunity to vet the ethics curriculum. Surely this is outrageous. Why should the local leader of a religious denomination have any more say over this than anyone else in the community? There is no serious suggestion that the program is anti-religious in any way (teaching, say, that the Catholic Church is corrupt), which seems like the only legitimate concern the religious could have.
One might, of course, ask why religious instruction is included at all within the public school curriculum of a country like Australia. Isn't this an indefensible leftover from an earlier time when Western countries liked to think of themselves as "Christian"? Surely those parents who specifically want their children instructed in religious dogma can arrange for it to happen outside of school hours - maybe at Sunday School or the equivalent. Public education is an activity carried out by the state, which doesn't exist to promote either religion or anti-religion, or to adjudicate on their respective merits.
Indeed, if the various local religious ministers are to be allowed onto school grounds to teach religious viewpoints, then local humanist or rationalist leaders should be given the same privilege and allowed to teach their anti-religious worldviews to whichever children want to attend. Fair's fair.
Seen from that viewpoint, offering children a secular, but not anti-religious, alternative to scripture classes, seems like a modest step. It will still be a long way short of state neutrality in matters of religion and irreligion.
If the ethics program is any good, it might be better simply to make it compulsory in place of religious education. Or maybe the freed-up time could be used for secular (but not anti-religious) study of comparative religion. A program of study like that might be genuinely beneficial for children growing up in a pluralistic society. It could contribute to mutual understanding. Why, in the twenty-first century, with so many pressures on the curriculum, is precious time in public schools being allocated to (largely futile) attempts at religious indoctrination?