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Q&A: 'Religious education is child abuse', says US professor Dr Paul Ehlrich

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Q&A: ‘Religious education is child abuse’

US biologist and ecologist Dr Paul Ehlrich stirs up the panel of ABC’s Q&A by suggesting that religious education is akin to child abuse.


“I don’t want to be outrageous,” said US academic Dr Paul Ehlrich before – and after- he said something incontrovertibly outrageous.

The biology and global population researcher had strayed onto the minefield-laden battlegrounds of religious education and child abuse to suggest they were one in the same on Monday night’s Q&A.

His comments were triggered by the panel’s discussion of a Melbourne school principal’s decision to excuse a Shiite Muslim students from singing the Australian national anthem if they were observing Muharram, a month of mourning in which Shiites do not participate in joyful events, including singing.

American biologist Dr Paul Ehlrich on Q&A.

American biologist Dr Paul Ehlrich on Q&A.
Photo: Screenshot Q&A

Host Tony Jones had asked Ehlrich whether he sang the US national anthem when he was at school.


“We did, but we didn’t have child abuse required in those days, we didn’t have any religious instructions in the schools,” Dr Ehlrich said.

“Did you just say religious instruction is child abuse,” Jones asked the outspoken panellist.

“That’s what Richard Dawkins and lots of other people have said, that you teach people details about non-existent supernatural monsters and then behave in reaction to what you think they are telling you.”

“That’s child abuse. You don’t raise your kids that way,” Dr Ehlrich said.

“I don’t want to be outrageous…” Dr Ehlrich qualified.

Then hot on the heels of calling the gods of devout religious followers “supernatural monsters”, he urged the Q&A audience to be respectful of religious differences.

“We are a very social animal we’ve got to learn to live in groups of millions and billions, which means … you’ve got to give some space for other people, or you will be in a constant war and so it’s something that we ought to be discussing all the time,” he said.

“Other people are going to have different views,” said Dr Ehlrich, who earlier in the show called audience questioners “shills”.

“You’ve got to respect them as long as they are not trying to tread on you in some way,” he said, before Jones abruptly stepped in to call on another question from the audience.

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