Since the introduction of the National School Chaplaincy Program by the Howard government, close to half a billion dollars has been spent on largely unqualified chaplains, while real pastoral care from professional counsellors is pitifully thin on the ground.
Furthermore, the NSCP may be illegal. The constitution prohibits religious tests for public office, and yet non-religious people are considered for chaplaincy roles only if no ‘suitable’ religious candidate can be found. This is clearly discriminatory.
The NSW Teachers’ Federation had this to say about the program:
The National School Chaplaincy Program announced by the Howard Government represents one of the most misguided and divisive policies yet to be announced… [the NSCP] is a flagrant misuse of urgently needed funding for public schools. Further, it represents a crude attempt to provide even more funding to private religious schools.
At a time of ever increasing social pressures on children, what is needed is an enhancement of professional school counselling services. Currently the school counsellor to student ratio stands at about 1:1000 in NSW schools. This money for the National School Chaplaincy Program would be better spent on additional school counsellors to achieve a more manageable caseload.
Furthermore, the Federal Government’s proposal stands in stark contra-distinction to and undermines Australia’s secular traditions. The potential division caused by this program, within school communities of different faiths, is of concern.
It is only in a secular society where freedom from and freedom for religion is guaranteed. Recognising this, the opportunity already exists in all public schools for local, recognised religious groups to provide special religious education (scripture).
The Australian Psychology Society says there is ‘clear evidence that school chaplains are engaging in duties for which they are not qualified’ and that this amounts to ‘dangerous professional behaviour’.
High Court Challenge
In view of the possible constitutional breaches, Mr Ron Williams has launched a High Court Challenge to the National School Chaplaincy Program. We must support him.
However, the enemies of secularism are not taking this affront to their access to children’s minds lying down. A number of (mainly christian) groups, notably Scripture Union Queensland, are lobbying hard to keep their undeserved access to school children, and have launched a social media campaign to this effect.
We must respond with resolve.
Stand up for secular education
With this in mind, I have launched Say No To Chaplains. With only two clicks, you can make your voice heard too.
Visit http://www.NoToChaplains.org now to Tweet your message to Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Education Minister Peter Garrett, and spread the word on Facebook.
Together, we can make our voices heard too.
Teachers say no to chaplains. The constitution says no to chaplains. Please say no to chaplains too.