WA primary school rejects religious discrimination in chaplaincy program

Si Gladman / 15 July 2022

A West Australian primary school community has voted to remove religious-based discrimination in the hiring practices of school chaplaincy positions.

In May, the Parents & Carers (P&C) group at Maylands Peninsula Primary School conducted a survey of parents and carers about the chaplaincy program, asking whether they would support funding for equal opportunity employment for every position, regardless of a person’s faith. 

Out of 80 respondents, 71 parents voted ‘yes’.

They also overwhelmingly supported the P&C group’s proposal to ask the peak representative body, WA Council of State Schools Organisation (WACSSO), to advocate at a state level for all pastoral care positions to be open to applicants without any religious requirement. 

The Maylands Peninsula P&C is now preparing to put a motion to the WACSSO conference scheduled for September.

The survey result was a clear repudiation of the state- and federal-funded school chaplaincy program, which, at the time of the survey, required that chaplains appointed via third-party religious labour hire firms – overwhelmingly Christian – had to be people of faith.

The state Department of Education’s Buyers Guide for school chaplaincy services at public schools also required that chaplains be endorsed by a recognised religious authority and be people of faith.

These requirements for the taxpayer-funded roles in public schools meant that non-religious people were excluded from these pastoral care roles based on religious grounds.

Last year, Western Australia’s Equal Opportunity Commissioner John Byrne raised his concern that this appeared to be “prima facie religious conviction discrimination”.

The new federal minister for education, Jason Clare, has since announced proposed changes to the program to allow schools the option of choosing a secular welfare worker instead of a religious chaplain.

However, the Rationalist Society of Australia remains concerned that religious-based discrimination will continue in the program.

RSA president Meredith Doig said the P&C survey result at Maylands Peninsula Primary School was proof of how school communities, when educated about the school chaplaincy program, would reject the religious-based discrimination.

“We’d like to see more P&C groups around the country follow the lead of Maylands Peninsula Primary School and ask their school communities whether they support continuing the practice of religious-based discrimination in the hiring of these pastoral care roles,” she said.

The P&C group, in the motion submitted to WACSSO, said parents at Maylands Peninsula Primary School had been concerned about the religious-based discrimination in the chaplaincy program for more than a decade.

“[The P&C has been] of the view that discrimination has no place in public schools and children always deserve the best person for the job,” it said.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article said the comment from the P&C had been made by a spokesperson. It was actually a comment sourced from the motion to WACSSO. 

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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

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

All the more reason.