I don’t have a problem with religious groups fund-raising amongst their parishioners to purchase land and build places to worship. I even think it’s really nice when several different religious groups get together and share facilities that they’ve jointly organised/leased, or even if one group owns it but is sharing because they believe it’s the right thing to do.
I do have a bit of a problem however when my Government decides to set aside some land for the use of religion, particularly when the residents of the area were far more interested in having a school provided than a place of worship. In today’s Age:
Planning Minister Matthew Guy has announced a prime government-owned site in Docklands will be provided for a place of worship. This is despite a community plan released by the government and Melbourne City Council in July listing a ”public primary school in or very near Docklands” in the top six priorities. A place of worship did not make the top six.
Now I don’t care that much for Docklands, I find it currently a soulless void (nothing to do with religion, a lot to do with there not being much I’m interested in there currently), but that’s now… In 5 years it could be the place to be, and this “prime government-owned” land could be put to far better use than to “save souls”. A community centre (secular) and a school are two purposes I could see being incredibly useful. I think the area is also lacking a doctor and a chemist, so looking after the physical health of the residents, and their education of any children living there would be far more useful.
So why is the Docklands getting government provided religious facilities?
Mr Guy said Docklands deserved a place of worship. ”Places of worship play an important role in the spiritual and emotional life of a community. They can be a critical focal point, particularly for a new suburb such as Docklands, in bringing people together,” Mr Guy said.
You know what else brings people together? Schools and community centres. They tend to bring more people together because they exist outside religion – which tends to be a group of semi-exclusionary clubs. People bond over taking their children to schools, and community centres tend to host communal events and provide spaces for various groups to get together on common interests. Community centres and schools also tend have some green space, something which is really lacking at Docklands, which is a great thing for a community. Imagine a school or community centre with a communal garden? In the land of apartments, I am sure that there would be many who would love that.
Mr Guy goes on to add:
”A new religious centre will provide significant community benefit bringing faith as well as education and training facilities for the Dockland’s community and emerging businesses.”
I’m currently at a loss, other than clearly providing education in the religion of the person providing instruction, what other education and training facilities would benefit the community and emerging businesses that wouldn’t be provided by a school or community centre – which might I add do not require people to be of a particular faith to participate in.
[UPDATE: I have been advised by someone who knows Docklands better than I that there is already a community centre in the Docklands area called The Hub (as I understand it). This also has creche facilities. This said, there are plenty of places of worship in Melbourne CBD (not covering all religions but many), but no schools.