All councils should review funding of religious chaplaincy, says RSA

Si Gladman / 05 September 2022

All councils that give funding to religious-based chaplaincy in public schools should review the appropriateness of the practice.

The Rationalist Society of Australia has welcomed the commitment from the Bayswater City Council in Western Australia to review its ongoing funding of religious chaplains at schools in its local government area in Perth.

Last month, the RSA reported that ratepayers in Bayswater have given more than $500,000 over the past 10 years – and $850,000 since 2001 – to Christian labour hire firm YouthCARE to support the placement of chaplains in public schools.

Although Councillor Dan Bull (pictured) and some of his colleagues wanted the funding to go directly to schools, Bayswater council voted to maintain the status quo – of continuing to fund YouthCARE directly – but agreed to pursue a full review of the funding arrangement.

RSA president Meredith Doig wrote to councillors before the meeting to urge them to support continuing with the funding only if it went directly to schools to provide professionally qualified wellbeing workers.

At the meeting, Mayor Filomena Piffaretti said a broader review was needed, given that a “significant oversight” had resulted in only four out of the local government area’s 13 public schools benefiting from the funding.

She argued that the proposal to direct funding to schools to allow for schools to choose a secular option did not go far enough in addressing issues of equity and transparency in the program.

“This was a message that I received loud and clear from the majority of school principals that I spoke to in the last week,” said Councillor Piffaretti.

Following the council’s decision, Dr Doig said that the Bayswater council, and other councils that continued to fund religious-based chaplaincy in public schools, should move swiftly to review the practice.

“Ratepayers would be alarmed to know that their money funds religious labour hire firms that discriminate on religious grounds in who they employ in these chaplaincy roles,” she said.

“We’re disappointed the Bayswater council didn’t see fit to at least change the funding arrangement at this point, given that the federal government’s policy has changed its school chaplaincy policy to provide schools with a secular option.

“But we are pleased there will be a full review. All councils who fund religious-based discrimination as part of school chaplaincy should be reviewing the appropriateness of their funding arrangements.”

A number of Bayswater councillors spoke in opposition to the funding of religious-based chaplaincy. Deputy Mayor Catherine Ehrhardt said she had “never supported the chaplaincy program” and argued that, “in an ideal world, the state and federal governments would fully fund programs that they run”.

Councillor Elli Peterssen-Pik argued the council should not be funding programs within schools but should be focused on improving the infrastructure and safety of the environment around schools. 

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Si Gladman is Campaigns & Communications Coordinator at the Rationalist Society of Australia. You can contact him at sigladman@rationalist.com.au or follow him on Twitter at @si_gladman

Image: Dan Bull (LinkedIn)

All the more reason.