RSA seeks clarification from WA government on its inconsistent policy toward chaplaincy roles 

Si Gladman / 16 August 2021

The Rationalist Society of Australia (RSA) is seeking clarification from Western Australia’s Education Minister Sue Ellery (pictured) on whether the state government requires that school chaplaincy roles be filled only by people of faith.

In a letter to the minister, Vicki Caulfield, on behalf of the RSA, pointed out the McGowan government’s conflicting statements on the job requirements for applicants to the taxpayer-funded roles.

In an article published in the West Australian (paywalled) on the weekend, Minister Ellery claimed that there was “no State Government requirement for school chaplains to be of faith”. However, the Education Department’s own website states that: “Chaplains may be of any faith” – which excludes persons of no faith.

The government’s Chaplaincy Buyers Guide for schools – which appears to have been recently removed from the department’s website – also stipulates that only people of faith are eligible for chaplaincy roles.

The RSA letter also pointed out that the Education Department outsources the recruitment of chaplains to three providers, two of which are Christian and all of which require that chaplains be from a faith background.

  • Scripture Union (WA) states: “A chaplain will…be a person whose beliefs and lifestyle reflect a biblical understanding of and a commitment to the teachings, life and person of Jesus Christ.”
  • YouthCARE states: “As a Christian organisation, we exist to express God’s love and presence in educational communities throughout WA.”
  • OnPsych states: “You are free to belong to any faith and may take on a title relevant to your religious beliefs.”

As reported earlier this year, the Western Australian Equal Opportunity Commission has agreed with the RSA’s concern about religious-based discrimination taking place in the hiring practices involved in the chaplaincy program. 

On Commissioner John Byrne’s advice, the RSA wrote to the Education Department directly in March and April this year to raise our concerns about the religious-based discrimination. However, we still have not received a response.

In her letter to the minister, Ms Caulfield reiterated the RSA’s position that, while many chaplains do a great job in supporting students and school communities, non-religious people who are well qualified and experienced should not be excluded.

“The system as it currently stands excludes a large number of suitably qualified and experienced people – who are perfectly capable of doing the work required in these chaplaincy roles – solely on the basis of their lack of religious belief or affiliation,” she said.

“The system as it currently stands is likely unlawful because it breaches the WA Equal Opportunity Act.”

A newly formed group of parents and former teachers, called the WA Public School Alliance, is also urging the government to remove the religious-based discrimination in the appointment of school chaplains.

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: Sue Ellery MLC (Facebook)

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