RSA seeks answers over chaplaincy provider’s breaching of anti-discrimination laws

Si Gladman / 18 November 2022

The Rationalist Society of Australia is seeking answers from the Queensland government about the admission by the state’s largest provider of chaplains for public schools that it has been operating in breach of anti-discrimination laws.

Earlier this year, Scripture Union told the government review into the state’s Anti-Discrimination Act that “it must have the ability to recruit Christian employees” in order to deliver the services of school chaplains, but that, under the Act, it was unable to do so.

“SU QLD’s inability to preference Christian candidates under the AD Act imposes more onerous obligations on religious organisations than non-religious organisations (i.e. political parties),” it said in its submission.

In recruiting chaplains for the taxpayer-funded National School Chaplaincy Program, however, Scripture Union has required that people appointed to the roles be Christian – seemingly in breach of the Act.

RSA president Dr Meredith Doig has this week written to Queensland education minister Grace Grace to ask what the government would do to stop the ongoing religious-based discrimination in the school chaplaincy program.

She has also sought an explanation from Queensland Human Rights Commissioner, Scott McDougall, on how the commission would respond to Scripture Union’s admission.

Last year, following complaints from the RSA, the Queensland Human Rights Commission (QHRC) confirmed it had elevated concerns about religious-based discrimination in the school chaplaincy program during meetings with the state’s education department.

In December 2020, Dr Doig told the QHRC that the religious-based discrimination in the school chaplaincy program contravened the state’s Anti-Discrimination Act, which made it unlawful to discriminate against job applicants on the basis of religion.

Last month, the RSA wrote to the federal education minister, Jason Clare, and his state and territory counterparts to warn them that religious-based discrimination would likely continue in the program if long-established Christian labour-hire firms continued to dominate the marketplace of providers.

In reply, the Queensland Education Department said that all school chaplaincy providers must comply with all relevant departmental policies and the law, including the Anti-Discrimination Act.

In a letter to us, Brett Weeden, Acting Executive Director of Student Wellbeing, Family & Community Partnerships, said: “… organisations must comply with all relevant departmental policies and are bound to uphold the law. This includes adherence to the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 which prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religious beliefs and activity when recruiting to positions.”

In her letters to Minister Grace and Commissioner McDougall this week, Dr Doig noted Mr Weeden’s comments and urged them to take action in response to Scripture Union’s admission.

“The hiring practices of Scripture Union and other such providers of chaplains to schools unfairly block non-religious people and people of minority faiths who have qualifications in youth work and pastoral care from filling these roles,” she said.

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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: Grace Grace MP (Facebook)

All the more reason.