RSA backs parents’ petition in push for change to school chaplaincy program

Si Gladman / 18 January 2022

The Rationalist Society of Australia has welcomed a petition, driven by parents from across Australia, that calls for changes to be made to the National School Chaplaincy Program (NSCP).

In the Change.org petition, the parents are asking for the next federal government to fund youth workers, not faith-based chaplains, in Australia’s public schools.

Since launching on Friday, the petition has garnered more that 7,000 signatures.

You can sign the petition here.

The parents behind the petition – Fiona Newton from Victoria, David Friandana from Western Australia, Melinda Dodds from Queensland, Dan Goodsir from New South Wales and Mark Davies from South Australia – have also set up a Facebook page, where, in a video, they explain their reason for establishing the petition.

The petition says that children in public schools “deserve to have access to the best-qualified youth workers to support them”.

“Children in our public schools come from a wide variety of religious, spiritual and non-religious backgrounds. Yet, under the federal government-funded National School Chaplaincy program, these youth worker/wellbeing support roles are available ONLY to religious people,” the petition says.

“This practice discriminates against non-religious people who, otherwise, may be suitably qualified and well-experienced in youth work and wellbeing support. It also discriminates against non-religious children from accessing the secular support they need.

“In the lead-up to the next federal election, we’re calling for the major political parties to commit to funding an expanded program that provides the best wellbeing support possible for our kids.”

Rationalist Society of Australia president Meredith Doig welcomed the petition and urged RSA members and supporters to sign it.

“If you care about getting the best pastoral care and wellbeing support for your kids in public schools, please support these parents, sign the petition and share it with your friends and family,” said Dr Doig.

“These parents need all our support so that they can get the best possible wellbeing support and pastoral care for the kids in public schools.”

The RSA has been busy lobbying state governments to remove the religious-based discrimination in the NSCP which prevents non-religious people from filling the positions.

Under the NSCP, state education departments receive federal funding and then 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.

In their petition, the parents argue for appointments to roles funded under the NSCP to be made just like every other position in public 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

All the more reason.