The head of a chaplaincy provider that receives millions of taxpayers’ dollars to recruit chaplains to work in public schools says it hires Christians because they are “people who align with our values”.
Speaking to a City of Bayswater meeting last week, Tamsyn Cullingford, the Chief Executive Officer of YouthCARE in Western Australia, said that the Christian labour-hire firm’s chaplains were also required to attend a church, unless they lived in remote regions.
Ms Cullingford appeared at the council meeting to urge councillors to continue funding YouthCARE.
During the meeting, however, some councillors concerned about the religious-based discrimination in the chaplaincy program inquired into why YouthCARE would not hire non-religious people and non-Christians for the public school roles.
Asked by Councillor Elli Petersen-Pik why chaplaincy providers needed to be religious instead of secular, Ms Cullingford said “all people can do good” but that YouthCARE, as a Christian organisation, employed Christians.
“One of the most critical success factors in any organisation is values alignment, and I think you would all know that. So, for us, we employ people who align with our values. We happen to be a Christian organisation, so those are the people that we employ,” she said.
Asked by Councillor Dan Bull whether he could become a chaplain with YouthCARE if he were Muslim, Ms Cullingford said that, while anyone could apply, “…we employ people who align with our values” and that “… the people who tend to align with our organisation are Christians”.
The Bayswater council is considering whether it will pull its funding from YouthCARE and redirect it to pubic schools in its local government area to hire pastoral care workers directly.
Last month, the Rationalist Society of Australia (RSA) revealed that Bayswater ratepayers have paid more than $500,000 in the past 10 years to fund Christian-only chaplains through YouthCARE.
YouthCARE also receives millions of dollars from the federal and state governments – including an extra $21.8 million from the McGowan government as part of an election commitment early last year.
Western Australia’s Equal Opportunity Commissioner John Byrne has raised concerns about the practice of restricting chaplaincy positions to Christians, saying it constituted “prima facie religious conviction discrimination”.
The community of one of the schools in the Bayswater area, Maylands Peninsula Primary School, earlier this year voted overwhelmingly to remove the religious requirements from the chaplaincy role.
Earlier this month, the school’s Parents & Citizens (P&C) succeeded in getting all of the state’s P&Cs to reject the current federal and state model of funding religious chaplains through religious labour-hire firms.
Ms Cullingford warned Bayswater councillors that removal of the funding from YouthCARE would result in a dilution of the money going to schools and likely end up in schools continuing to employ chaplains from YouthCARE anyway.
While the Albanese government has indicated changes so that schools would have a choice of religious or secular pastoral care workers under the National School Chaplaincy Program, the RSA has warned that religious-based discrimination would likely continue because Christian labour-hire firms would dominate the marketplace.
In Western Australia, the two largest chaplaincy providers – YouthCARE and Scripture Union – are Christian organisations that employ only Christians to the roles.
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 by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash