Promotional videos posted online reveal that a taxpayer-funded chaplaincy provider is using its access to West Australian public schools to connect children to churches.
In a series of videos posted to YouthCARE’s Vimeo channel and targeted at church audiences, chaplains talk about “connecting and engaging” churches with schools and even directing students to participate in church programs.
In one video, a YouthCARE 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’.
“Now, YouthCARE is in that great position to be able to help you as a church to connect and engage with your local school. And we’re in that position to help the local school connect and engage with you,” he said.
In one video, another chaplain praises a group of “faithful prayer warriors” that she says enters her school to pray each week.
Under the existing state and federal funding arrangements in Western Australia, the chaplaincy role is not supposed to be a religious role, and staff working in the role are specifically prohibited from proselytising.
As the Rationalist Society of Australia has reported, however, the primary providers of chaplains in the state, especially YouthCARE, employ only Christians. When asked in September at a Bayswater City Council meeting whether YouthCARE would employ a Muslim or non-religious person to a chaplaincy role, Tamsyn Cullingford, the Chief Executive Officer of YouthCARE, said that “…we employ people who align with our values” and that “… the people who tend to align with our organisation are Christians”.
In job advertisements last year, YouthCARE required that candidates have a “demonstrated active engagement in the life of a Christian Church and denomination that affirms the triune Godhead of Father, Son and Holy Spirit” and be “a member or associate Church of YouthCARE.”
In the videos on Vimeo, a chaplain said it was important for school chaplains to be connected with local churches in the communities.
“We can ask them for help, for prayer support, for emergency relief, for mentoring and connecting the families or the students to programs that are offered by the church. On a regular day, I would call them up or email them if I have a family or a student that needs support, and ask them to connect in whatever way is possible,” she said.
Other chaplains describe how they feel the “presence of God” in their workplace and feel privileged to work in the “God-given ministry of chaplaincy”.
The Rationalist Society of Australia (RSA) is calling on the new West Australian minister for education, Dr Tony Buti, to clarify whether the state government supports the chaplaincy program being used for proselytising activities.
“Parents and families across WA deserve to know the extent to which the state government is aware that these activities are taking place in public schools,” said RSA president Dr Meredith Doig.
In an article published in Rationale magazine last year, a former chaplain who worked in South Australia said that her Christian labour-hire firm applauded a chaplain for having taken children from his school to a youth group where he was youth pastor.
In that same article, an informant revealed that churches have a deliberate strategy of using the taxpayer-funded school chaplaincy program to connect children with church activities outside school hours.
Religious chaplaincy in public schools is unpopular in Western Australia, where, in 2022, all of the state’s P&C committees, a school community and the majority of principals in one local government area called for governments to instead fund the employment of professional non-clinical student welfare officers.
Last week, we revealed that the federal Department of Education will continue to require that religious chaplains in the newly named National Student Wellbeing Program have “endorsement by a recognised or accepted religious institution”.
Last year, we urged federal, state and territory education ministers to transition to a better pastoral care/well-being support program that puts the interests of children ahead of the interests of religious labour-hire firms and lobbyists.
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash