Below are some other reasons why the NSCP should be opposed.
• is divisive, particularly for schools with students and parents from a diverse range of backgrounds.
• is internally inconsistent as it requires chaplains to be religious, yet to put aside this religiousness in delivering services.
• greatly favours private schools over public schools.
• puts the Prime Minister’s personal world view of religion and spirituality ahead of the best interests of students.
• requires no compulsory educational qualification and experience of chaplains – unlike school counsellors and teachers.
• is at odds with the Government’s own Values for Australian Schools
• discredits the Commonwealth Government and the Department of Education, Science and Training in particular to be promoting religion.
• The Program is divisive, particularly for schools with students and parents a diverse range of backgrounds.
This has been one of the major criticisms of the Program made in the media. The criticism is that parents will not want a chaplain who is from a different denomination or religion to their own dealing with their children. You only need to think of the wars that have been fought over religion (Protestant vs Catholic, Sunni vs Shiite) to see that religion can be highly divisive. Indeed, the media is almost daily reporting tensions over religious matters, in particular, the nature and place of Islam in Australian society.
The Australian reported that former New South Wales premier Bob Carr had “described the proposal as ‘retrograde’, and warned it could divide school communities and lead to a string of anti-discrimination actions.” Indeed, the Program Guidelines state that there must be “broad support by the school principal, parent body and/or the school governing body about the acceptability of the religious denomination or faith of the school chaplain”. The acceptability of a chaplain’s religion or denomination is clearly an issue for parents and the guidelines indicate that even the Government sees it is a contentious issue.
The Government’s response to this criticism has been to emphasise that the program is voluntary. However, this position discriminates against school communities with a parent body who cannot agree, which is much more likely in public schools with parents of varying denominations than private religious schools. The Sydney Morning Herald interviewed Judy King, the principal of Riverside Girls High School in Gladesville who “said she agreed with Mr Howard about the need for more support for students in crisis, but what was needed were more social workers. ‘Why do we need to bring religion into it? We are a secular society,’… there were 48 different cultural backgrounds among the students at her school and she was quite sure the school would not support the recruitment of a chaplain.”
A related problem is that in some states, only certain Christian organisations are approved to provide chaplains to state schools. As far as can be ascertained in Queensland the Scripture Union is the only body which has been “issued with state-wide accreditation by the Minister for Education, Training and the Arts and are available to be contacted when a school community wishes to engage an authority to arrange for employment of a paid chaplain” (Qld Dept of Education web site). This is obviously contrary to the stated intention of the Program that chaplains could in principle come from any faith or denomination. The vision statement of the Scripture Union speaks of “introducing young Australians to Jesus, the Bible and the local church.” This is certainly at odds with the Program Guidelines which state that chaplains must not seek to “impose any religious beliefs or persuade an individual toward a particular set of religious beliefs.” Likewise in Victoria ACCESS Ministries are accredited by the State Eduction department and state that their “vision is to reach every student in Victoria with the Gospel….(and) transform this nation for God.”
• The Program is internally inconsistent as it requires chaplains to be religious, yet to put aside this religiousness in delivering services.
It is not credible for the Government to fund a program that is all about religion, but then require the chaplains to somehow put aside their own religious beliefs in performing their duties. Indeed, it could be argued that those most able to offer unbiased religious advice would be the non-religious as their views would not be coloured by a particular doctrine or faith.
For example, the Scripture Union Australia, whose Queensland CEO is on the Program Reference Group, state that their core aim is
. to make God’s Good News known to children, young people and families.
. to encourage people of all ages to meet God daily through the Bible and prayer.
so that they may come to personal faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, grow in Christian maturity and become both committed church members and servants of a world in need. (Scripture Union Australia web site)
Scripture Union Australia’s aims, mission statement and working principles are strongly evangelical. They state as the first point of their working principles “Evangelism and Teaching” that they “are committed to teaching basic Christian truths as an essential part of evangelism.”
The NSCP is contradictory because it requires these very people to somehow put this aside this religiosity and their own religious views in “assisting students in exploring their spirituality [and] providing guidance on religious, values and ethical matters”. The school chaplains are required not “to impose any religious beliefs or persuade an individual toward a particular set of religious beliefs”. But this is clearly stated aim of the Scripture Union. Likewise, theACCESS Ministries who train and supply chaplains to Victorian schools stated that “the chaplain is able to offer their faith as a consistent part of their presence as they journey with people (previous website)”.
• The Program greatly favours private schools over public schools.
Much of the funding has gone to private schools who already have chaplains. The Program is a backdoor way of increasing funding to private schools over public schools. Private schools will generally not need to go through the process of getting the school community to agree on the denomination and role the chaplain. As such, they will be most likely to apply for funding and to receive funding. Many will receive payment for a service that they have already been funded by parents to provide. The Prime Minister suggested that we should all accept this program on the basis that the Federal Government already funds private religious schools, but the distinction is that these schools are funded by the government to provide education rather then religion. It is interesting to note that the previous Minister with responsibility for the program, the Hon Julie Bishop, is a past board member of the Anglican Schools Commission (ref here).
• The Program puts the previous Prime Minister’s personal world view of religion and spirituality ahead of the best interests of students.
In an interview around when the program was announced the former PM stated that “in no way will schools be required to participate in this Program as a condition of receiving the funding. I want to make that very clear”. He must have meant general funding, because if this were the case, then schools should be free to use the money for chaplains if they wished or for anything else. However, all of the other Program material suggests that schools must employ religious chaplains if the wish to access these funds. There is no flexibility to employ non-religious counsellors or other welfare workers, or to use the money for other purposes.
The Australian Education Union has attacked the proposal in the Sydney Morning Herald and called for the funding to be available to all welfare workers: “It’s discriminating against those school communities who believe that a chaplain is not the best resource for their community.” Indeed, schools are encouraged to provide additional resources which will draw more funds away from normal school activities to religious activities. “Schools and their communities are expected to contribute to the costs of engaging a school chaplain” and this can include additional State and Territory government funding (Program Guidelines). This will also favour wealthier schools and communities who have or can raise additional funds.
The money allocated to this program is required for much more urgent and necessary purposes. It would be much fairer and more effective for schools to be given the money to spend on what they, rather then the Prime Minister, see as their most pressing priorities. It would be interesting to see how may choose chaplains. As one parent wrote in the Age blog, “When my teenage daughter read about this in the newspaper I heard her cry, “WHAT! 90 million dollars? What a waste of money! We don’t need Chaplains what we need is toilets with taps that work, we need clean bathrooms with tiled floors and walls… well resourced libraries and equipment that works. Teachers that are motivated and well educated. Facilities that are not falling apart and that are appropriate to the needs of the school. I could go on and on.” It was a long time ago that the Prime Minister was a school student and maybe he is out of touch after decades of VIP treatment. The NSW Teachers Federation state that there is a huge lack of school counsellors in public schools such that “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.”
Remember, parents are free to take their children to church services, Sunday School or other religious instruction if they wish. Children and parents can consult with religious persons any time. Chaplains should not be specifically funded by taxpayers as a part of the education system. Religions already get an array of tax breaks including income tax and payroll tax and they enjoy other legal benefits from the Government. If parents want religion in their children’s schools they can send their children to independent schools. Many public schools also have scripture lessons and/or religious studies. People are free to practice whatever religion they wish and have their children participate. While there are scripture lessons and chaplain visits in some state schools, religious activities should be funded by the churches and parents who want it, not all of us through the Commonwealth.
• The Program requires no compulsory educational qualification and experience of chaplains – unlike school counsellors and teachers.
As chaplains are appointed by churches and related bodies and not the education authorities, there is no requirement that they will have the qualifications and experience to deal effectively with children and their problems. For example, in the case of Queensland, Scripture Union endorsed chaplains need only to have completed a Certificate Course. Nationally, there is no requirement that chaplains have any particular teaching, counselling or social work qualifications or experience. Instead the Program Guidelines state that a school chaplain need only be a:
“person who is recognised:
• by the local school community including the principal, parent body and/or school’s
governing body, as an appropriate appointee and as having the skills and experience to
deliver school chaplaincy services to school communities; and
• through formal ordainment, commissioning, recognised qualifications or endorsement by a
recognised religious institution.”
It is bad public policy for the Government to favour an individual or group just because they are religious over others who are not, especially to work with children when they have no qualifications and experience in teaching, counselling and social work. Indeed, the key architect of the program told The Australian that “he had seen a need for chaplaincy when he was in schools providing religious education lessons [and] has been asked many times about the qualitative difference between chaplains and secular counsellors and is hard put to describe it.” If he cannot or will not describe what it is that makes chaplains better than others, then that difference should not be the key requirement of a government program.
• The Program is at odds with the Government’s own Values for Australian Schools.
The Program promotes the idea that the religious are better qualified then the non-religious at offering values and ethical advice. The Program Guidelines talk of school chaplains “providing guidance about spiritual, values and ethical matters”. In fact, religion is not formally considered relevant to consideration of ethical matters in Australian Schools by the Government. Values for Australian Schools are in the NSCP Guidelines and they do not make reference to religion or god and are entirely non-religious in character. This statement of values was developed in the past few years and features on a government web site and elsewhere. There is no reason why Chaplains are necessarily better at offering values and ethical advice than another other group. The Values for Australian Schools are summarised as follows:
Care and Compassion
Care for self and others
Doing Your Best
Seek to accomplish something worthy and admirable, try hard, pursue excellence
Pursue and protect the common good where all people are fairly treated for a just society
Enjoy all rights and privileges of Australian citizenship free from unnecessary interference or control, and stand up for the rights of others
Honesty and Trustworthiness
Be honest, sincere and seek the truth
Act in accordance with principles of moral and ethical conduct, ensure consistency between words and deeds
Treat others with consideration and regard, respect another person’s point of view
Be accountable for one’s own actions, resolve differences in constructive, non-violent and peaceful ways, contribute to society and to civic life, take care of the environment
Understanding, Tolerance and Inclusion
Be aware of others and their cultures, accept diversity within a democratic society, being included and including others
• The Program discredits the Commonwealth Government and the Department of Education, Science and Training in particular, to be promoting religion.
It is ironic that the Department of Education, Science and Training finds itself having to implement a program that promotes religion, faith and superstitious belief over scientific analysis, knowledge and reason. The Program features predominately on front page of the Department’s web site! It is not the role of the Commonwealth Government to directly fund religion.
It is also unacceptable for the Liberal party to be supporting such a program when their own statement of beliefs The Liberal Way – Federal Platform is completely secular in nature and makes no comment on belief in god or religion. If there is to be extra funding made available for schools, the schools are the ones best placed to decide where it can be best spent.This is in line with the Liberal Party’s fundamental commitment to “the decentralisation of power, with local decisions being made at the local level.” The Liberal Way Federal Platform Liberal Party of Australia. Indeed, the Liberals often characterise themselves as the party of small government. They argue that individuals should be able to get on with their lives without government interference unless it it absolutely necessary. In this case the government is intervening in an activity which has traditionally been carried out by volunteers, and should not be subject to government interference.
The National Platform and Constitution of the Australian Labor Party likewise is completely secular and makes no mention of God or promoting religion.