The Rationalist Society of Australia has challenged all of the nation’s education ministers to explain to parents and carers of public schoolchildren how the religious requirements for some roles support the wellbeing of children.
In a letter to federal education minister Jason Clare and his state and territory counterparts, RSA president Meredith Doig urged them to take the opportunity provided by the current review of the National School Chaplaincy Program (NSCP) to transition to a better pastoral care/wellbeing support program.
Dr Doig warned the ministers that religious-based discrimination would likely continue in the program, despite changes announced earlier this year by Mr Clare, as long-established Christian labour-hire firms would continue to dominate the marketplace of chaplaincy providers.
Dr Doig said such firms hire only Christians who have links to churches or other religious credentials. She noted that a recent job advertisement at YouthCare in Western Australia required applicants have: “Demonstrated active engagement in the life of a Christian Church and denomination that affirms the triune Godhead of Father, Son and Holy Spirit; and is a member or associate Church of YouthCARE.”
“Federal and state/territory governments should explain to parents and carers in public school communities how such requirements support the well-being of their children and how they reflect the diversity of faith and non-faith cultural backgrounds in Australia’s school communities,” wrote Dr Doig.
“We urge federal and state/territory governments to take the opportunity provided by the current review of the NSCP to transition to a better pastoral care/well-being support program that puts the interests of children ahead of the interests of religious labour-hire firms and lobbyists.
“Instead of using taxpayer money to support the profitability of religious labour-hire firms, we urge you to allow schools to hire people directly into these roles rather than through outsourcing arrangements.”
In the letter, Dr Doig noted significant recent developments in Western Australia, where the state’s Parents & Citizens groups last month resoundingly voted in favour of governments funding the employment of professional non-clinical student welfare officers instead of religious chaplains.
That outcome followed the vote of a Perth primary school community earlier this year to remove the religious requirement from the chaplaincy roles in the school, wanting instead the “best person for the job”.
“These developments send a clear signal to governments that public school communities do not want religious-based discrimination in the hiring practices of pastoral care workers in their schools,” wrote Dr Doig.
She also pointed out that a number of state anti-discrimination/equal opportunity commissions had raised concerns about religious-based discrimination in the hiring practices of third-party firms.
She wrote that the RSA was also deeply concerned about claims from a former chaplain about proselytising and from a former employee of a religious youth ministry organisation that church groups use the chaplaincy program to connect children to out-of-school church activities.
Si Gladman is Campaigns & Communications Coordinator at the Rationalist Society of Australia. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @si_gladman
Photo: Jason Clare (Facebook)