A provider of chaplains to public schools in Western Australia has removed videos from the internet that featured its staff talking about how they use their positions in schools to connect children with churches.
Following a complaint by the Rationalist Society of Australia about the videos on YouthCARE’s Vimeo channel, the state education minister Tony Buti (pictured) confirmed in a reply that the Department of Education would ensure the videos be removed.
In January, the RSA revealed that, in a series of videos targeted at church audiences, YouthCARE chaplains talked about “connecting and engaging” churches with schools and even directing students to participate in church programs. One area chaplain said that most of the pastors he spoke to had identified connecting with schools as part of their church vision and ‘outreach plan’.
The YouthCARE Communications Vimeo channel now no longer exists, with a message on the site saying ‘Sorry, we couldn’t find that page’.
In a letter to Dr Buti in January, RSA president Dr Meredith Doig asked about the extent of his department’s knowledge that chaplains had been acting to connect with public schools via school chaplains.
She also asked whether the state government would now enforce the non-proselytising policy of the new National School Wellbeing Program (NSWP).
In a response In February, Dr Buti said the state Department of Education had discussed this matter with YouthCARE.
“[YouthCARE] advised that the videos referenced in your correspondence were recorded previously, do not represent current practice and are being removed from the YouthCARE Communications Vimeo channel. The Department will follow up with YouthCARE to confirm this occurs,” he said.
Despite YouthCARE’s documented past practice of proselytising in contravention of government rules, it appears the Department will not be taking any action in respect of those contraventions.
“YouthCARE has reaffirmed that its chaplains are aware of the obligation not to proselytise under the Australian and State Government contractual arrangements. Should a breach of contract occur, the Department will take appropriate action.”
Under the previous project agreement between the federal government and the states, the chaplaincy role was not a religious role, and staff working in the role were specifically prohibited from proselytising. The NSWP also requires that chaplains and student wellbeing officers must not proselytise.
As the RSA reported in September last year, YouthCARE, which also receives millions of dollars from the state government, uses taxpayer’s money to hire only Christians because they are “people who align with our values”.
In her letter, Dr Doig asked Dr Buti whether the government would allow schools to use NSWP funds to employ wellbeing officers directly instead of chaplains through third-party religious providers. The RSA has repeatedly warned federal and state/territory education ministers that religious-based discrimination would likely continue in the new program as well-established and well-resourced religious third-party providers would dominate the program.
Dr Buti said the education department was currently “undertaking a refresh of the panel arrangement” for chaplaincy services in public schools.
“From Semester 2, 2023, schools will be able to select a chaplain of faith or no faith and/or a student wellbeing officer,” he said.
Image: Dr. Tony Buti MLA (Facebook)