A group of parents and former teachers in Western Australia is concerned that religious chaplains may be using their access to the state’s public schools to proselytise to children.
The WA Public School Alliance has asked Education Minister Sue Ellery to address the contradiction between the state’s stance on ‘no proselytising’ in public schools and the job training and selection process for chaplains that outlines evangelism as a key characteristic of the role.
The group shares the Rationalist Society of Australia’s concern about the religious-based discrimination in the taxpayer-funded school chaplaincy program, with the positions being advertised exclusively for people of faith.
In an article in the West Australian (paywalled) last weekend, Minister Ellery said chaplains were not allowed to proselytise.
YouthCARE, a Christian organisation contracted to hire the chaplains, also rejected the suggestion that its chaplains were proselytising.
However, YouthCARE’s own selection criteria for the chaplaincy roles requires that applicants have a “demonstrated capacity to sensitively relate the Christian faith in a secular context”.
Also, the training courses that chaplains undertake to gain their qualifications contain units focused on evangelism.
Margaret Court’s Victory Life Bible College is one provider equipping chaplains to enter the state’s public schools.
One of the units in Victory Life’s Certificate IV in Christian Ministry is focused on providing prospective school chaplains with “basic skills for evangelism and [to] prepare them to communicate a personal testimony to an audience”.
One concerned parent, Rosemary Lynch (pictured), has raised her concerns directly with Minister Ellery about the discriminatory hiring practice that prevents non-religious people from becoming chaplains.
“Anyone with the right qualifications can apply to be a teacher, a cleaner, work in school admin or apply to be a principal of our WA government schools. None of these jobs is dependent on any one set of beliefs,” she said.
Ms Lynch told the RSA that it was perplexing for Victory Life’s training units and YouthCARE’s job descriptions to have a focus on evangelising when the state government’s stated policy prohibited it.
The RSA has written to Minister Ellery seeking clarification of whether the McGowan government requires chaplains to be only “people of faith”.
Taxpayers are footing the bill for the chaplaincy roles through multiple ways – through federal funding, state funding, local government rates and through parents’ contributions to schools.
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Si Gladman is Campaigns & Communications Coordinator at the Rationalist Society of Australia. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @si_gladman