‘Open school chaplaincy program to qualified youth workers’, says RSA

Si Gladman / 01 September 2021

A proposal to increase government funding for the school chaplaincy program is being driven by ideology instead of concern for mental health and wellbeing, the Rationalist Society of Australia (RSA) says.

As reported in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Guardian late yesterday, Coalition backbenchers are urging the Prime Minister to increase funding for chaplains in public schools, claiming that children are struggling with the impacts of COVID-19 and climate change ‘alarmism’.

In response to the reports, RSA president Meredith Doig said that the government would open the National School Chaplaincy Program (NSCP) to qualified youth workers if it were serious about supporting young people’s mental health.

In only allowing for people with religious affiliation to be appointed to the chaplaincy roles, the taxpayer-funded NSCP is discriminating on the basis of religion.

“If these government members really care about the mental health and wellbeing of Australia’s youth, they would expand their proposal to include qualified youth workers, instead of persisting with this ideologically driven and discriminatory program in its current form,” she said.

“Australian taxpayers pay more than $61 million each year for the program, yet appropriately qualified youth workers are completely shut out based on religious criteria. As a result, children in our public schools are missing out on the support that they need.”

Dr Doig said many chaplains would be horrified that members of the government viewed them as being ‘troops’ for indoctrinating the next generation into climate-change-denial.

It is reported that moderate members of the government view the push for more chaplaincy funding as a tactic to appease conservative members ahead of the release of a stripped back Religious Discrimination Bill.

Earlier this year, the RSA called for a full parliamentary review into the federal funding of the flawed chaplaincy program after a number of state human rights and equal opportunity commissions agreed that the discriminatory hiring practices were legally problematic.

Under the NSCP, state education departments outsource the hiring of chaplains to overwhelmingly Christian service providers. As a result, the job descriptions require that applicants be Christian and have training certificates in theology, ministry and evangelism.

A parents’ and ex-teachers’ group in Western Australia has recently raised concerns about the discriminatory nature of the program and pointed out that some chaplains come from Margaret Court’s Victory Life Church Bible College.

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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: Priscilla du Preez (Unsplash)

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