The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 55
Are the religions denominations in general and our Roman Catholic fellow colonists in particular undergoing persecution? There seems something droll in the inquiry. When a certain church held sway throughout Christendom, people who were subjected to persecution were not left in any doubt upon the subject. The confiscation of their worldly goods and effects, the gloomy dungeon, the torture chamber, and finally the Auto-da-fe, settled the question in the affirmative. If it be true that there is persecution at this day and in this colony, the question does not appear to be capable of similarly easy settlement. Archbishop Moran assures as that it is a fact—that we are indeed in such a parlous state that when a verbal note of our condition was tendered in England to one of the leading statesmen of the kingdom, that potent official exclaimed—"Can such a thing be possible in this, the 19th century?"
What was it that caused this "leading statesman" to lift his astonished palms and put a question so nearly akin to Macbeth's "Can such things be, and overcome us like a summer's cloud, without our special wonder?" What have we been doing? Let the Arch-bishop explain:—"Before quitting England, a few months ago, I happened to mention to one of the leading statesmen of the kingdom that children going to the public schools in New South Wales were allowed a free pass on the trams and railways, whilst this boon was denied to the children attending the religious schools; he at once exclaimed—'Can such a hing be possible in this, the 19th century?" It would, indeed, be a shameful fact, if it were one, that religion was being treated in this oppressive fashion—that a school had only to be known as a religions one for the children going to it to be deprived of free passes on trams and railways. Fancy the train and railway conductors, like so many grim inquisitors, putting poor little scholars to the question : "Now, answer truly; are you going to a religious school, or are you going to an irreligious one?"—and, according to the reply, letting them pass free or demanding their cash. But what are the facts? In order to enable the whole of the rising generation to acquire the elements of education, and act as intelligent citizens and electors, the State provides schools, teaching within them a certain amount of religion, and offering access to the various denominations to teach more. It makes attendance compulsory, and in order that there shall be no opposition through the poverty or parsimony of parents, it offers free transit over its trams and trains. To those parents who, from various causes, prefer to pay for the tuition of their children in other schools than the public ones, it offers railway tickets at a quarter the ordinary fare. The subject of religion has nothing whatever to do with the arrangment. All private schools are treated alike. Nay, even the State schools of a superior description come under the same regulation. A pupil attending the High Schools of the State has to pay the quarter-fare. What, therefore, could be more misleading to the "leading statesman" than to put the matter before him as if it were an issue in this colony as between religion and secularism?
But his Grace prefers another charge of persecution against this commonwealth, especially applicable to his co-religionists. He says: "The State baa its rights, which we all respect, but it has also its duties, and we reckon it to be one of those duties to respect the religious convictions of its citizens, and not to force a system of education upon them which is repugnant to their feelings and their principles." No one will gainsay this statement; but when Dr. Moran attempts to show that his people are being persecuted, not by having a system of education repugnant to their feelings forced upon them, but by being refused State assistance in the establishment of their sectarian schools, it is difficult to treat his complaint seriously. The Pope at the Vatican complains of persecution by the Italian Government because he is not allowed to crush Protestant schools established and upheld by Protestant funds. Dr. Moran, here, complains of persecution because the Government will not help him to maintain the schools of his sect. In both cases the alleged "persecution" is of a peculiar and playful description. In this colony no sect is recognised in the general revenue; no rates are levied from, or on behalf of, any page break church. The money is contributed by the community and expended for communal needs. Some awkward and unexpected complications would arise if the Government commenced to count it out according to religions. As we pointed out yesterday, the Registrar General's returns show that there are twice as many prisoners belonging to the Roman Catholic denomination in the gaols of the colony as there ought to be. Is the denomination to be called upon to defray a like proportion of the State's expenditure on prisons, police, and courts of justice? Will it be insisted that they are being persecuted if they not allowed to do so? Assuredly the only way to avoid persecution is for the State to have nothing whatever to do with religions divisions either in collecting or expending its revenues.