If religious instruction is to be offered, it must be voluntary, parents must be told what it will preach and who will preach it (and who is paying for it), and it must not prevent students who opt out from doing something constructive. No one in authority, no matter what their own beliefs, should ever sanction - or even just turn a blind eye to - conversion by stealth. - WAtodayDaniel Dennett et al. propose that we should teach Comparative Religion. That is to say we should teach all students, from both private religious schools to public schools different world religions including the three main monotheisms which make up a large proportion of the world population.
I believe such a model is appropriate if we are going to cope with the influx of Muslims into this country. The best way to nip racism, discrimination and bigotry in the bud is education of the young. It is better that people who come out of school get an education to what Islam (and others) is really about, otherwise their opinions might come from the media or church leaders.
Comparitive Religion also gives the students a broad horizon as to the different faiths systems that exist in the world, including how they started, their moral systems, world view, etc. This can also be a platform for those advocating Creationism so that this can be taught alongside Hindu creation stories, Aboriginal Dreamtime stories and others.
Such instruction should be free of bias and inclusive of all faiths without making truth claims one way or another. It should not be a platform for teachers or preachers to corrupt young minds with false claims. It is also important that all student be given this opportunity to learn. Why should we allow parents to selectivly choose who and which religion indoctrinates their children?
As someone who was raised for some time as a Jehovah's Witness, I consider myself lucky that I was able to get a proper education on such matters as science, evolution, sex education, etc. Should my upbringing have continuted on the path that my parents chose for me based on religious grounds, I would not have been exposed to a proper education and would have been disadvantaged for the rest of my life - my mind clouded with the falsehoods that evolution must be wrong and I could never have blood transfusions, etc.
It saddens me that some children will never get the opportunities I got in life because they have been indoctrinated by parents and preachers who believe they have the right to determine what the children are exposed to and cloud their minds. Looking back I now get what they meant when they spoke about some things as being dangerous to faith.
Surely a more genuine belief is one made with all the facts and all the options on the table instead of one which exists only because they were denied facts or threatened from even thinking about other options?
Imagine if Bob Hawke, our only openly atheist prime minister, had allocated $165 million for religious schools to have an atheist, agnostic or humanist counsellor, philosopher or ethicist to help them teach values and improve their pastoral care.
I didn't know Bob Hawke was an open atheist but it doesn't surprise me that we have had at least one. I feel more content knowing that our country allows atheist leaders, such a scenario would be impossible in the United States.