Some Misconceptions About the School Chaplaincy High Court Challenge

I have an article on Online Opinion today which addresses some areas of political misrepresentation in respect to Ron Williams’  High Court Challenge to the constitutional legality of federal funding to the National School Chaplaincy Programme (NSCP).

But, as a bonus for my subscribers, regular readers, and anyone else who happens upon this blog , I’d like to address some items I was unable to canvass in the Online Opinion article.

High Court Challenge Funding

The first item relates to the funding of Williams’ High Court Challenge.  There are some rumours circulating that it is being funded by the Australian Secular Lobby.  This is arrant nonsense.

The Australian Secular Lobby (ASL)  is a citizens’ co-operative.  It functions very much like a facebook group.  People who are interested can ask to be put on the mailing list, people who need assistance can contact the administrators, but there are no ‘members’ per se, nor are there any membership fees, subscriptions, levies, sponsorships or donations of any kind.  There could not be, because the ASL doesn’t even have a bank account.  It is registered only as a trademark.

Yes, it’s true!   The ASL is involved in guerilla activism – that is, activism on no budget.  The ASL involves a lot of people who work very hard for no money and with no budget to lobby the government and to make the public aware of the fragile state of Australian secularism – particularly in our public schools.  If there are expenses involved  they pay them out of their own pockets, not from any secular slush fund.

So, if you see this silly rumour being perpetuated, can you please make a correction?  The ASL is not funding the High Court Challenge.  That would be impossible because the ASL doesn’t  have a brass razoo nor a piggy bank in which to store one.

While Brigadier Wallace claims his annual salary from the Australian Christian Lobby, our soldiers of secularism fight their battle for no monetary reward and with no budget.  Ironic, isn’t it?

The High Court Challenge is, in fact,  being funded by the Williams family who, I’m reliably informed, don’t happen to have a castle in Spain, a winery in the Barossa, a safe full of gold galleons at Gringott’s bank, or even an ailing rich uncle.  They’re just a normal, suburban family struggling with finances like the rest of us ordinary folk.

Behind the Williams family are many, many parents, citizens, educators and business people who believe passionately that the National School Chaplaincy Program is an assault on Australian secularism.  As such, they’re prepared to put their money where their mouth is to help Ron Williams pay his ever-mounting legal fees. (If you happen to support the case and can contribute a little – or a lot – please visit the High Court Challenge website and make a donation!)

The High Court Challenge vs Wider Concerns

Of course, as I explain in the Online Opinion article, the High Court Challenge won’t stop school chaplaincy and has nothing to do with whether chaplains are good, bad or indifferent.  It may, however,  succeed in cutting off one source of funding and alert Australians to the fact that nearly half a billion of their hard-earned tax dollars is being doled out to pay largely unqualified religious practitioners to work in schools which need, not chaplains, but  trained, secular counsellors.

The High Court Challenge has a very narrow focus and, if successful, a limited effect upon chaplaincy in state schools.  It won’t end chaplaincy in state schools and the High Court justices will not be called upon to pass judgment on the activities of the chaplains themselves.  It’s important to distinguish between the case and the wider concerns of many of those who support the High Court Challenge.

Just a Couple of Disgruntled Atheists?

And now, to the next misconception that’s being put about – that everyone loves the National School Chaplaincy Programme and the High Court Challenge is simply a malicious attempt by  a very small number of disgruntled atheists who want to derail it.

While, obviously, there is only one plaintiff in the High Court Challenge – Ron Williams – he is backed by a large and growing grass-roots movement of Australians who find the government’s entanglement with the Christian right disturbing, outrageous and a serious threat to the secular basis of Australian democracy.  Make no mistake!  Williams has the support of thousands.

Ministerial Claims About Chaplaincy

Expanding on my Online Opinion article,  I’d like to address in more detail some of the claims made in the  joint ministerial media statement by (then) Queensland attorney-general, Cameron Dick and (then) education minister, Geoff Wilson.

“Chaplains are only ever adopted into schools after the principal has consulted with the school’s P&C and the school community.”

Rubbish!  Scores of emails from outraged parents who were never consulted about having a chaplain at their school and presented with a chaplain as a fait accomplis are on file with the Australian Secular Lobby.  I receive many such complaints myself and pass them on to the ASL.

We know for a fact that evangelical churches urge their parishioners to stack – ahem – join their local P&C as a strategy to have the religious view prevail in state schools.  Sadly, non-religious parents, far less well-networked,  don’t realise their local P&C isn’t just comprised of other parents – it’s a sub-branch of the local happy-clappers.

“These non-discriminatory programmes show respect for everyone, regardless of one’s faith, and provide a valuable service that students really appreciate.”

No, they don’t!  The chaplains are overwhelmingly evangelical Christians recruited from fundamentalist churches.  A non-religious person can only be employed as a ‘chaplain’  if all avenues to employ someone with a religious affiliation have been exhausted.  How is that ‘non-discriminatory’?  Indeed, would it be similarly non-discriminatory if some future atheist Prime Minister determined that evangelical Christians could only be employed in a public school if all attempts to employ an atheist had been exhausted?

The very nature of evangelicalism means that chaplains don’t respect other faiths or those without faith.  Evangelical chaplains fervently believe they have a mission to ‘save’ those poor deluded souls who don’t believe as they do.  If they had any respect for non-Christians and the non-religious, they wouldn’t agree to work in public schools. – they would say:

“If parents what their children to have Christian role models and guidance they can bring their children to our church.  Our role is not to inflict ourselves or our faith upon those who don’t seek it, or are not mature enough to make such decisions.  Instead, we are here, in the community, for anyone who wishes to seek us out.  For the sake of the kids, use the money set aside for the NSCP to employ qualified secular counsellors.”

Just recently, in the Illawarra district, we’ve not only seen kids forced to attend SRE classes against their parents’ wishes, but we discovered the local SRE teachers praying online that this would result in religious conversions.  That’s the evangelical mindset.  These religious fanatics are on a holy mission and have no boundaries.

“.. school chaplains provide a vital and valuable service within [Queensland] schools.”

What service?  They are (officially) not allowed to proselytise nor counsel students.  So, what exactly do they do?  In fact, what they do is frequently overstep their boundaries.  We know that chaplains routinely engage in proselytising to students – students and their parents tell us.  In fact, the chaplains told us this themselves in a survey on school chaplaincy:

“In the two weeks prior to the survey,

• 95% of chaplains reported dealing with behaviour management issues, such as anger

• 92% with bullying and harassment

• 92% with peer relationships and loneliness

• 91% with student – family relationship issues

• 85% with sense of purpose and self-esteem

• 81% with grief and loss

• 77% with community involvement and social inclusion

• 76% with spirituality and ‘big picture’ issues of life

• 72% with mental health and depression

• 50% with alcohol and drug use, and

• 44% with self harm and suicide.

If chaplains do manage to control their evangelical urges within the school grounds, they ‘cleverly’ create opportunities to proselytise outside the school gate through after-school activities, school camps, etc.  Sure, these activities are ‘optional’ but they’re not marketed to the kids or parents as being ‘religious’ and, even if the parents realised what they were saying ‘yes’ to, it’s hard to tell a child she can’t go to camp or ‘make-up classes’ with her friends.

In Conclusion

So, to summarise:

a) The High Court Challenge is being funded by the Williams family, helped by donations from ordinary Australians who are appalled at the half a billion dollars of taxpayers’ dollars committed to a scheme designed to win the votes of Christian conservatives while short-changing kids and schools who are in desperate need of qualified counselors. (See counselor to student ratios by state on this link.)

b) The Australian Secular Lobby supports, but is not financially involved in funding the High Court Challenge.

c)  The High Court Challenge is not a frivolous case put by a small group of disgruntled atheists.  It is a serious case, involving some of Australia’s top legal minds.  The fact that it has been accepted for a hearing in May suggests that the High Court believes Williams’ writ raises some legitimate, if not yet proven, concerns.

d)  The defence of chaplaincy being touted by certain government ministers, chaplaincy providers bears no relation to the issues to be argued in the High Court (see my article on Online Opinion).  And, further, they should be thankful they’re not relevant as the ASL has ample evidence to prove that many of the claims are simply not true – or, at the very least, unproven.

As the date for the High Court Hearing draws closer, those in support of school chaplaincy and politicians seeking the conservative Christian vote will be doing everything they can to ‘spin’ the truth.  Conversely, Williams and his supporters don’t need to ‘spin’ anything.  They just want the truth to be heard.

Williams and his team have  a strong case and are willing to let it win or lose on its legal merits.  It’s a pity the Christians and their supporters don’t share the same respect for the truth, the same faith in our justice system, the same commitment to upholding the Constitution, or the same concern for the psychological welfare of our kids.

I may be an atheist, but I believe there are some things that should be held sacred.

  • The psychological welfare of our children – whatever the cost.
  • The separation of church and state.
  • The secular nature of Australian democracy.
  • And the right of every Australian, not only to freedom of religion but freedom from religion.

The National School Chaplaincy Program offends each and every one of these principles.

Politicians who support this travesty of a program should hang their heads in shame.

Win or lose, Williams case will not stop school chaplaincy in Australian public schools.  As important as it is, the High Court Challenge only addresses the narrow issue of federal funding for the programme.  It’s important to distinguish between the narrow focus of Williams’ case and the wider concerns expressed in this blog post.  It seems the only thing that will completely remove this ill-advised programme from our schools is a popular revolt against it.  It’s started already and it’s gaining strength.  Why don’t you stand up for our kids, secularism, and true freedom of religion and join the campaign against the NSCP.

Contact:  asl@australiansecularlobby.com

Chrys Stevenson

 

Disclaimer: Like many others, I have made some small contributions towards Ron Williams’ legal fees but I have no official connection with either the Australian Secular Lobby or with the High Court Challenge.  My only interest in this matter is that of a concerned citizen.

36 thoughts on “Some Misconceptions About the School Chaplaincy High Court Challenge

  1. AndrewFinden

    Good points about the clarifications.

    Couple of things though:

    Scores of emails from outraged parents who were never consulted about having a chaplain at their school and presented with a chaplain as a fait accomplis are on file

    That’s certainly an issue that needs addressing – consultation with the p&c and school community must happen, for sure (not following guidelines does not mean the guidelines are at fault).

    We know for a fact that evangelical churches urge their parishioners to stack – ahem – join their local P&C as a strategy to have the religious view prevail in state schools. Sadly, non-religious parents, far less well-networked, don’t realise their local P&C isn’t just comprised of other parents – it’s a sub-branch of the local happy-clappers.

    Welcome to democracy. It’s not their fault that the people who hold view are not as organised or involved.

    The very nature of evangelicalism means that chaplains don’t respect other faiths or those without faith. Evangelical chaplains fervently believe they have a mission to ‘save’ those poor deluded souls who don’t believe as they do.

    That may be true for some who identify as evangelical, but it would be a stereotype to label all evangelicalism as that. In fact, those evangelicals who come from a reformed background, like Presbyterian, Anglicans and some Baptists very much reject the view that they can ‘save’ or convert anyone: they understand that this is God’s work, and all they can do is present the gospel, which I don’t see inhibits respect for other faiths or beliefs, anymore than your ‘fervent’ view that Christianity is false disrespects me or my right to believe what I do. Could it be that you have a very narrow, fundamentalist view of evangelicalism and indeed, evangelism?

    Reply
    1. Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear: Assorted Rants on Religion, Science, Politics and Philosophy from a bear of very little brain Post author

      Andrew said: “Could it be that you have a very narrow, fundamentalist view of evangelicalism and indeed, evangelism?”

      From what we are seeing in the schools fundamentalist evangelism is rife. Of course, there will be exceptions, but there are enough who aren’t to make the whole thing a travesty.

      From the point of view of the chaplaincy providers, the aim of the service is to recruit souls. That’s what chaplains are there for (in their view). That’s why they talk about it being a ‘privilege’ to be allowed into the schools, to be able to get such access to the kids, and to bring the church to the school and the ‘good news’ to children who are ‘unchurched’. Honestly, Andrew, it’s like putting an Amway salesman at a business conference – he’s just not going to be able to help doing his schtick!

      Reply
      1. AndrewFinden

        I guess I’m just cringing at the use ‘recruitment’ as a definition of evangelism – I don’t think that’s what it is; it’s not a membership drive (and maybe I just happen to have always been amongst groups of Christians who think like me about it) – but rather it is sharing of a message (that we think is good news – lit. gospel) which someone can take or leave as they wish, and rather like saying to someone – ‘hey you should meet so-and-so’.
        As far as I’m concerned, it’s absolutely not about getting members for a church down the street. I do recognise that not everyone necessarily sees it that way, however.

        I’m not sure if you’ve picked up on it, but I’m not so interested in churches as institutions as I am in churches being communities of people who care for one another (a very good book – though obviously from a Christian view – on the insufficiency of institutional church is ‘Total Church’ by Tim Chester if you’re remotely interested in seeing such a perspective)

        That’s all a bit of a tangent though…

        Thanks for the link love😉

  2. Pingback: Things Findo Thinks

      1. macgrunt

        yes, but i was referring to your “Things Findo Thinks” link. seems there’s lots of other things on his site — but no longer anything about chaplaincy — curious.

      2. Findo

        Yeah, I let that blog die about a year ago.. for various reasons (I think I like theological arguments too much!). It was a good time of sharpening my thinking on a number of issues, but I came to a point where I thought my focus and energy was best served elsewhere.

  3. Kiara Hartley

    I am a friend of Ron’s and I wholeheartedly support his case. I believe that funding that is being used for the chaplaincy programs should be redirected to more important areas like the health care and roads of many places and into other avenues of education (they did want to have a national curriculum right?).

    I liked my Chaplain in school because I could go to him and I knew he wouldn’t try and sway my thinking and my choice to not have a religion. if anything My school only allowed for a religion class once a term even then it was five minutes of my chaplain discussing God the other 65 was listening to bands and what their personal experiences were.

    When i found out that Ron was going to the High Court, early last year I asked him what his stance was. He just questions where the money is coming from for the program.

    Reply
  4. Jim McDonald

    Good article, Chrys.

    One of the things that needs to happen is an inquiry by a Senate Committee and a House of Representatives Committee on the Chaplaincy program, its staffing, the qualifications of chaplains who are clearly – and commonsense would tell you that they would do so – in counselling children and doing so in a religious context: that is why they are there in the first place. The Parliament must bring the program to account as they do in every other field.

    Isn’t it interesting that the Coalition’s harping about Labor Government programs does not extend to the funding and management of this program. The problems that were experienced in the insulation scheme were in fact significantly less than before the program was put in place. There were proportionally fewer fires and fewer deaths in the industry AFTER the Government put the program in place. Yet the Coalition blathers on about the deaths and fires. It is a measure of the incompetence of Labor in getting its message across that it has been unable to rebutt the political strategy of the Leader of the Opposition and his shadow ministers over the insulation program.

    The chaplaincy program does not involve the same degree of funding, but it is a far more dangerous use of public funds because the charter of the Scripture Union, which manages the program in Queensland on behalf of a hands-off Government, is the mission of converting non-believers and in schools those non-attached or unbelieving people are children. It is the very nature of chaplains to minister their flock. The very definition of a chaplain is one who is “a member of the clergy, officiating in the private chapel of a household or institution, on board ship, or for a regiment, school, etc.” [Shorter Oxford English Dictionary]. Chaplains are in schools to convert children.

    The form of “officiating” is surreptitious, often one-on-one, without scrutiny, and in the case of the Women of Worth ministry, plainly deceptive. Now, I’m not arguing that chaplains might be good people. At heart most probably are. But they have no business infiltrating secular, government schools. That there is bi-partisan support for funding this flawed program indicates that our secular leaders are prepared to preside over the growth of sectarianism that will undermine secular democracy. It is this funding that Mr Williams is challenging in the High Court.

    So, here is around half a billion dollars being handed over to religious organisations whose primary function is to convert and “save” children. And a Catholic chaplain [if there are any] or a Baptist or a person from some esoteric evangelical church, are not going to encourage children to join other faiths or leave them alone if they are agnostic or do not believe in a religious god.

    So, why isn’t the Coalition vocal about this program, one that is infused with sectarianism, badly managed with serious implications for the nation’s children, and funded from the public purse? Is it because today’s politicians no longer respect the secular state? In which case they are elected on a falsehood: they are elected to run the secular aspects of the state and they bring their private religion into public gaze. The Prime Minister’s role is to lead for all Australians and Kevin Rudd fawned with as much enthusiasm as John Howard before him the right wing religious lobby. Not shy about photo opportunities with religious heads of all persuasions, he boycotted last year’s international conference of atheists, whose speakers included many prominent international figures.

    Politicians are elected to uphold and make the laws with respect to the Australian community not to facilitate the agents of sectarian religious belief. They are there to ensure that spending from the public purse benefits all Australians, not to give money to religious organisations so they can do their missionary work in schools funded by the taxpayer. This is so, whether or not Mr Williams is successful in his challenge to the legality of funding these people who have the potential – if not the mission – to subvert the belief systems children bring from the privacy of their home. And that is another reason why the Parliament ought to take more interest in this program: religion in the spirit, if not the law, of the Constitution is a private matter. And our founding fathers were very alert to the perniciousness of nineteenth-century sectarianism, which is why sec 116 was included in the first place. It is the public manifestation of religion that undermines the open arms of multi-culturalism. It is the arrogance of religious figures who assume that Christianity or Islam or any other religion has a monopoly on the principles of leading a good life, that encourages further a divide in the civil nation. Yet the Exclusive Brethren, a body which eschews civil duty in the name of esoteric Christianity, has wielded an undue influence on some conservative politicians. And politicians who understand the difference do no more than whisper about better spending the money on qualified counsellors than well-meaning god-botherers whose appointments are filtered by the Scripture Union, if they say anything at all.

    The Coalition and the silent Labor backbenchers who might be just a little disconcerted by the program that bible-carrying Kevin Rudd supported with as much fervour as John Howard did and which, incredibly, the current Prime Minister has expanded – they stay silent about this pernicious chaplaincy initiative. That they fail to stand up for the separation of Church and State, the separation of politics from religion is an ethical failure. That they stand by while the High Court challenge against the funding of chaplains is misrepresented by their fellow politicians says little for the quality of our elected representatives.

    The Realpolitik of the Chaplaincy program is, of course, the perceptions of too many of our politicians that supporting pro-Christian initiatives in the schools will bring them more votes. As will kowtowing to the power of religious leaders who influence the gullible about political questions from the microphone performer and the pulpit. I am old enough to remember hearing an Irish Catholic priest in the 1950s bellow from the pulpit in the week before a Federal election: “And if you vote for the ALP on Saturday, you’ll be committing a mortal sin”. Those words are etched on my memory, because my father, who at that time still supported Labor, marched the whole family out of the Church. And our present leaders encourage such bigotry and interference in the political process by funding religions to get at school children in our Government-run, secular schools.

    The adoption of religion in political strategies by politicians like Rudd and Abbott is to be abhorred by any democrat. Freedom of religion is an established human right but it is a matter of private belief and should not permeate political discourse. This up-welling of religious fervour among our politicians is unseemly and wrong, and betrays both non-Christians and the high percentage of Australians who do not believe in a god. It dooms the nation to a return of sectarianism, but this time, the split is not between Catholics and Protestants based on intellectual and historical traditions. This time there is an insidious sectarianism that is engendered by evangelical groups whose geneses are the sects in the United States that have used their political power to foister creationism in school curricula, hatred between religions, exclusiveness about the matter of personal salvation [they learned that from the Protestants and Catholics], un-scholarly interpretations of the bible and proselytisation of literal renditions of Middle Eastern religious cosmology while rejecting the inconvenience of scientific evidence. The principles of the secular State insulate the polity from the tyranny of such groups through preserving religious freedom. Sectarianism is the ultimate threat to freedom of religion. And the school chaplaincy program will ensure the next generation carries on the cults of exclusionism.

    Reply
  5. Ps Wazza

    Having worked in school systems in WA as a Chaplain – I would like to say a couple things about P & C’s – they are as a general rule – not well attended!

    Personally I am for a broader consultation of school communities; its a win;win if the school (majority) support a chaplain – the chaplain is less stressed in fulfilling his or her role and is more effective in their role.

    What does a Chaplain do in their role?

    Firstly I want to clarify what counselling is and isn’t.
    Now I think – and I am a parent – that most parents would believe that any 1;1 or even 1;3 contact is some sort of counselling, weather it be – mediation, mentoring or any private confidential conversation; we would define that as counselling: you would think so – but the answer is ‘no’

    in this day an age where fear of litigation is rife; insurance companies and professional counselling associations want to differentiate between those ‘who are trained and qualified counsellors and those who are not’

    Now as a trained and qualified youth worker – does not qualify you to do “counselling” although as a youth worker you will spend a lot time ‘talking with youth’ in 1;1 confidential setting; sounds like counselling doesn’t it but its not!

    Chaplains are not trained counsellors – but they are trained; youth workers are not trained counsellors but they are trained.

    Counsellors are trained in one or more models of counselling and have a document to prove it.’Apparently’ if your not trained then your not doing counselling!! You maybe doing everything a counsellor does – you maybe a natural or mis-happen to get right – but you are not allowed to say your counsellor or say you are doing counselling this ‘social worker rule’ has been around for decades – its not the chaplaincy service providers that are pulling the wool over people eyes when they say look at all the 1;1 contacts and issues that have been dealt with.

    The building industry is the same; handy man build but are not builders; they are not allowed to call them selves builders ; they may be trained in a variety of building aspects – some home builders are better than some commercially qualified builders – but they are not call themselves builders – not matter how good they build. on the other hand a builder who holds a qualification has the right to call himself a builder no matter how poorly he builds!

    A handy man may have fixed – renovated – built many solid houses – have a great reputation but no matter how much he builds – nor how good he builds he will never be considered a builder until he hold a piece of paper that says he is a builder.

    Chaplains are trained and I do believe in National minimal standards for Chaplains and most likely not all current chaplains would met the bench mark where i believe it should be; I think all chaplains should be at least trained in solution focused counselling.

    This idea that the govt should replace chaplains with youth workers instead has intrigue me.

    Now having been a youth worker – I have no problem with youth workers, nor schools employing them nor govt funding them – however to replace all public school chaplains with youth workers is going to be very very expensive.

    1. Think of all the schools that currently do want a chaplain; but would how ever want and/or need a youth worker.

    2. Think of all the full time Chaplains that cost approx $50 k-p/a of which $20 k/pa by federal funds that’s 3/5 not paid by federal revenue that is made up of Church contributions and LCC fundraising. Where will that shortfall come from?

    3. Plus the schools that have part-time chaplains that either volunteer or do not receive the $20 k pay out.

    4. Extra support staff to support those workers

    The current federal commitment would have to be at least doubled maybe even tippled from what it is now.

    One last point – Chaplains did not bust the front Gate of the School down – they were invited in because of all those issues listed in the article I call this the
    ‘vacuum’ of the big need and no one was there for many of these student – school actually already have secular counsellors they are called psychologist but the state school system cannot afford to pay what is needed so the psych spend nearly all their time doing 1:1 with what schools call the pointy end of kids.

    If you imagine the school population is shaped like a diamond you have two pointy ends – high achievers and ‘gifted’ at the top and there is a pointy end at the bottom with ongoing issues that prevent students from reaching their full potential – the school psych will spend their time with the student at the bottom pointy

    So in our equation we have some really big issues in our schools – a school psych doing a great job but not enough time allocated which equates to money to see more students or do more preventative work with the broader population and then a chaplain which was invited into to the school because chaplaincy is cost effective.

    I know for a fact that when I was a Chaplain I ‘saved’ kids not into a church or in to faith, but from literally killing themselves.

    Cheers

    Wazza

    Reply
    1. Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear: Assorted Rants on Religion, Science, Politics and Philosophy from a bear of very little brain Post author

      “Having worked in school systems in WA as a Chaplain – I would like to say a couple things about P & C’s – they are as a general rule – not well attended!”

      Wazza – whether or not P&Cs are well-attended or not, the fact remains that, as a strategy, evangelistic churches are urging their members to join so that the church gains a level of control over the school. This is cynically opportunistic. We know this is happening as we have parents contacting us, distraught, that their state school has been effectively infiltrated and commandeered by a P&C stacked with right wing conservative evangelistic Christians.

      “Personally I am for a broader consultation of school communities; its a win;win if the school (majority) support a chaplain – the chaplain is less stressed in fulfilling his or her role and is more effective in their role.”

      Whether or not the ‘broad school community’ supports a chaplain, that does not address the problem that the children of non-Christian or non-religious parents are disproportionately impacted by this decision. If the chaplain is employed as a cheaper alternative to a welfare worker, it means these kids don’t have the same access to support as other kids. In a state school, this is grossly unfair. Also unfair is the fact that you chaplains love to involve the kids in after-school activities and camps where the ‘no-proselytising’ rule does not apply. Sure it’s voluntary, but it’s hard for secular parents when their child wants to go with the rest of their friends and you’re saying ‘no’. Of course, organizations like Scripture Union know this and rely on pester-power to lure in unchurched kids. That’s their schtick.

      There’s a good reason why state schools are supposed to be secular – it makes it fair for everyone. Eroding that secularism – even just a little bit – inevitably puts some kids and their parents at a disadvantage.

      Chaplains are counselling kids and they are doing it with little or no qualifications. In Queensland chaplains can be employed with no qualifications and are only required to gain a minimum qualification within a certain period. This means we potentially have people with no more than a grade 12 education counselling suicidal or self-harming children.

      “Now having been a youth worker – I have no problem with youth workers, nor schools employing them nor govt funding them – however to replace all public school chaplains with youth workers is going to be very very expensive.”

      So what? If what our kids need is trained counsellors, then that’s what they should get – regardless of the expense.

      How would you feel if you developed a debilitating mental illness and went to your GP who said, “Look here, Wazza. You’ve got a severe psychological condition but Medicare’s a bit overtaxed at the moment, so we can’t send you to a psychiatrist. All I can do for now is send you down the road to Phil at the local garage. You know Phil, great mechanic, nice bloke. He did a counselling course at the local TAFE and while he can’t give you therapy or counselling, you and he can have a nice cup of tea and a chat.”

      That wouldn’t be good enough for an adult – why do we think it’s good enough for our children. And, by the way, the analogy is not exaggerated. One of my friends, a teacher, says the chaplain at his school is the local mechanic – and he has no other qualifications other than being a Christian.

      “Think of all the schools that currently do want a chaplain; but would how ever want and/or need a youth worker.”

      Why should a school need a chaplain and a youth worker? If you are not allowed to proselytise and you’re not allowed to counsel, nothing would be lost in replacing a chaplain with a youth worker. Unless, Wazza, you’re going to tell me that being ‘a Christian’ gives you some moral or ethical advantage over a trained, secular counsellor? And, I’d be careful about claiming that because claiming that a religious person is somehow ‘better’ than a non-religious person is not only discriminatory, in government terms it is unconstitutional.

      “Think of all the full time Chaplains that cost approx $50 k-p/a of which $20 k/pa by federal funds that’s 3/5 not paid by federal revenue that is made up of Church contributions and LCC fundraising. Where will that shortfall come from?”

      I’m appalled that you think children should receive cut-price care. Get chaplains out of the schools and let the churches start lobbying for what is best for the kids, not what is best for the churches. I find your attitude here sickening. Really! If the churches really cared about kids’ mental health issues, they’d withdraw chaplains from schools of their own accord and force the government into paying for trained counsellors. But this isn’t about the kids, is it, Pastor Wazza? No, it’s about recruiting new tithe-payers to prop up the dwindling finances of the nation’s churches.

      “Extra support staff to support those workers”

      Why do these extra support staff have to be Christians?

      “One last point – Chaplains did not bust the front Gate of the School down – they were invited in …”

      There was no ‘vacuum’. The Queensland government, followed by the Federal government introduced chaplaincy as a cynical bid to win the Christian vote. It was political opportunism, plain and simple. But, once there was an offer of an extra pair of hands, schools which had never even thought of having a chaplain thought, “Well, why not? Why should we knock back an extra resource?” It wasn’t about ‘need’. It wasn’t about a ‘vacuum’. It was about being offered something for free and saying, “Might as well have it.”

      “If you imagine the school population is shaped like a diamond you have two pointy ends – high achievers and ‘gifted’ at the top and there is a pointy end at the bottom with ongoing issues that prevent students from reaching their full potential – the school psych will spend their time with the student at the bottom pointy.”

      I have always said that there is good reason for the school counsellor to get out of the office and mix it with the kids as the chaplains do. This doesn’t require someone to be religious.

      “I know for a fact that when I was a Chaplain I ‘saved’ kids not into a church or in to faith, but from literally killing themselves.”

      And I know for a fact that kids have died when the chaplain didn’t pick up on the fact they were in crisis. Not the chaplain’s fault – they should never have been put into that position in the first place. But, that doesn’t help the dead child or their parents.

      You should never have been in the situation of ‘saving’ a child whose life was in danger. In fact, you were working outside your guidelines if you are telling the truth. If a child was in this kind of crisis, you are required to refer them to the principal who, in turn, is required to refer them to a trained mental health professional. It may be that you did help a suicidal child – but, you could just as easily have said the wrong thing and driven them to suicide. You are not trained to deal with this situation and, even if you were, you are not allowed to deal with it in your role as a chaplain. It was reckless and irresponsible of you to do so.

      Ironically, it is chaplains like you who just can’t resist ‘big noting’ yourselves about the lives you’ve saved who provide us with the evidence that chaplains routinely work outside their boundaries, put kids’ lives at risk and assume (because of their religious delusion) that they have expertise which they simply don’t possess. Thank you Wazza. We add these kinds of confessions to our database as they are very helpful in convincing both politicians and the public that no matter what guidelines are put in place, chaplains will defy them.

      Reply
      1. AndrewFinden

        it’s hard for secular parents when their child wants to go with the rest of their friends and you’re saying ‘no’.

        Either my school was an anomaly, or things have changed drastically in the last 15 years, so that now not going to an extra-curricular Christian event makes you un-cool…

      2. Wazza

        “In fact, you were working outside your guidelines if you are telling the truth. If a child was in this kind of crisis, you are required to refer them to the principal who, in turn, is required to refer them to a trained mental health professional”

        @ Cross-eyed bear

        What do the guidelines say?
        How was I notified of this students attempted suicide? And at what time?
        What specifically were my actions and responses at the time of intervention and after?
        And which specific part of the guide lines did I breach?
        I said I intervened not conduct suicide assessments or therapy!!
        You seem to know a lot about what happened tell me some more! You have made some assertions about the way I conducted myself “you were working outside the guidelines”
        The onus is on you to prove my guilt not simply announce it! If this is an example of how the High Court Challenge is going to be supported; a list of so called ‘Confessions of Past Chaplains” ……..(taken of my web page)
        Then this really will be a storm in a tea cup!

  6. Pingback: An open letter to my Christian Facebook friends regarding Chaplaincy | Venn Theology

  7. dangersteg

    Some misconceptions about the use of the word “secular”. In this context, most people’s response is akin to support for the position of secular humanism. The 1880 Education Act in NSW assumed the Irish position of “free, compulsory and secular.” But religious teaching continued. Why? Secular, at that time, meant essentially, non-denominational. The idea that education should be free of any discussion of religious ideas (as my state education was) was not at all the intention. If values are taught in schools – which is very much on the agenda atm – they have to have a basis. ATM these are, by default, secular humanist. So it seems to me that there is every reason for a secular humanist to fear the chaplains. There is no valid reason to exclude an alternative value system that purports to teach a faith basis that had a foundational role in the development of modern Australia. As a parent, I would like my children to have a balanced school experience, not one dominated by one worldview that dangerously positions itself as “neutral” and is willing to defend its dominance all the way to the highest court in the land.

    Reply
    1. Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear: Assorted Rants on Religion, Science, Politics and Philosophy from a bear of very little brain Post author

      For the record, those of us who oppose chaplaincy do not necessarily suggest that religion should not be taught in schools. In fact, most of us support the teaching of comparative religion as an academic subject and the incorporation of religion, where appropriate, into subjects such as art, history and literature. Chaplaincy is opposed for two key reasons. 1. The majority of chaplains are drawn from fundamentalist, evangelical churches and do not represent the wide diversity of religions in Australia; 2. Chaplains are explicitly told they are not allowed to teach religion (although we know this rule is often broken). Their role is to provide ‘pastoral care’ to students. This means that people who often have no training whatsoever in counselling or psychology are put into the position of counselling children with serious psychological and mental health issues. We know that chaplains are frequently working outside the guidelines and that this puts at risk children in danger. Our contention is that the nearly half a billion dollars spent on chaplains who, technically, are neither allowed to proselytise, teach religion, or counsel would be better spent on qualified counsellors/psychologists and youth workers. This is not just the view of atheists like myself. It is a view shared by the Australian Psychology Society, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, Sane Australia, the Australian Education Union, the NSW Teachers Union and a number of religious leaders as well.

      Our primary concern is the welfare of children. It is not being well served by the current system – either in terms of religious education or in terms of the responsible regard for the considerable mental health and psychological issues which effect today’s youth.

      Reply
  8. dangersteg

    So essentially this is an unresearched anecdotal viewpoint. There are no studies quoted simply the views of those who, generally speaking, have something to lose here. I am after data on this. You have simply shared the views of a number of organisations who wish to gain from the removal of chaplain funding in favour of their own professions. They are not neutral – and until data is made available on the benefits or otherwise of chaplaincy, the opinions are simply that.

    Reply
    1. Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear: Assorted Rants on Religion, Science, Politics and Philosophy from a bear of very little brain Post author

      To me, it simply makes sense that children facing psychological stressors and mental health issues should be counselled by someone trained in those professions – not by someone with a high school certificate who happens to attend an evangelical church. How much research do you think it needs to establish that adults suffering illness should be attended by a qualified physician rather than the local minister, mullah or rabbi? If we accept that adults deserve attention by qualified professionals, how can we accept less for our children?

      To me, the view that psychologists and psychiatrists are speaking out of ‘self-interest’ is cynical in the extreme. I know a number of psychologists who are genuinely distressed at the harm being done to children by well-meaning but ham-fisted untrained chaplains. Their concern is not their income, but the health and safety of children. They are people, more often than not, parents – just like you.

      Reply
  9. dangersteg

    My wife is a social worker and works in schools. I am an independent school Chaplain. Both roles are important – an necessary. My wife works in a client-based setting where appointments are made and referrals taken. As the psychologist working with her does. Neither are freely available – they are so caught up with the major problem cases that they just do not have time to just be with the students and chat through the daily normal issues of adolescence that a chaplain can.

    Apparently, I am cynical – “ham-fisted untrained chaplains”, “someone with a high school certificate”. This, again, is unresearched and prejudicial. I have degrees in Economics, Law, Theology and Education. I have also a 2 year certificate in Counselling.

    Your knowledge of your subject seems a little slender. My wife refers “illness” cases as you call them. Neither she nor the Psych work with patients who are suffering mental illness as diagnostician. They may screen and then pass that person on to a medically trained practitioner. Schools are not hospitals. If you cut your knee in the playground, a first aid trained adult can attend, clean up and bandage it. If you have a compound fracture, the ambulance is called and they take you away to a facility where you can be treated.

    Chaplains who are doing their job (and they should be trained – I have no dispute with you there) when they screen also. The “skinned knee” soul who is not getting on great with their Dad, struggling with a rejection from peers or just having a bad day. Chaplains are great, in my experience, at picking up these issues that the counsellors don’t generally have time or availability for. Deal with it – the reason this is expanding is because it is successful. Any other suggestion, like political pressure, is “cynical”.

    The other side of the task of a chaplain in a state setting is complex. There is a feeling that schools should be a “religion-free” zone. I ask the question “why?”. Who made that rule? They didn’t consult me. It simply says that non-religious worldviews get to prevail and be evangelically promoted by enthusiastic secular humanists. The chaplain can bring at least some faith perspective that, in my experience again, is overwhelmingly positive. Now we are talking research – the findings are out, faith is good for your emotional and social well-being. Some will say that this is Christian. This is not surprising as it is the foundational faith perspective for Australian society. But a good chaplain can give opportunities to hear from the local imam or rabbi.

    I have more room to move, of course, in my setting. But i have organised inter-faith days for students, visits to local houses of worship and am permitted to teach religious studies which includes a serious study of the Christian scriptures while also taking a “comparative” approach. Comparative is an inappropriate term actually, because there is little sense in comparing one faith with another. I simply try to present them, in a way that a practitioner of that faith would be satisfied with.

    I have probably given enough here for the moment but perhaps its clear that more thought is required before we rush in and stop this program. Unless, of course, one has a reason to seek the funding for one’s own profession – but that would be ‘cynical’.

    Reply
  10. Janice Wallace

    “They didn’t consult me. It simply says that non-religious worldviews get to prevail and be evangelically promoted by enthusiastic secular humanists.”

    You are wrong.

    When states took the role of education from the church it was the Christians of the day who knew very well they could not trust each other, so they made the schools ‘secular’ spaces. In some states, the church was able to impose what we will here call ‘RI’ acknowldeging that it has different names all around the nation today.

    No one ever wanted or thought about chaplains, for exactly the same reasons, they would, inevitably, be from oe denomination or another.

    It was the untrustworthy nature of Christian evangelism that saved our schools.

    You quote NSW, but I prefer Qld. Look it up.

    In Qld, no religion at all was allowed onto the school ground, and quite right too.

    That brief moment of sanity ended after a few years, 1875 – 1910, when RI and Bible lessons given by the teacher were imposed on to state schools. Both continue today.

    Since school teachers are public servants, they have no views to impose onto students, be they rabid evangelical Christians or mild humanists. It is simply a Furphy to pretend that school teachers are wild Humanists who will ‘teach’ their view.

    Most are so bloody conservative you’d wonder if they were not aligned to the CIS or IPA. Their unions have no idea how to politicise their members, and they wring their hands if they have to consider strike action.

    But the NSCP has turbo charged evangelism in state schools and parents and students who want nothing to do with chaplains are unable to escape them.

    As for chaplains being able to ‘fill in the gaps’, oh dear, how did students live before?

    Any old tosser with a few life skills and a decent attitude towards young people can do exactly the same. But they are not allowed to, because the baton has been passed to only those with a ‘religious’ bent.

    The NSCP was, is and will always be, a free kick to the Christian religion to enter schools that have previously been barred from entering, as the SU material and ACCESS goons admit.

    Go away, go and work in a religious school and take your miserable world view with you.

    NSCP chaplains are frauds. The school janitor could do as well, and used to too.

    Reply
    1. SUpporter

      Hi Janice,
      the NSCP was and is not a “free kick to the Christian religion to enter schools…”
      you seem to like QLD. School chaplains started working in state schools in QLD through scripture union (many unpaid) about 20 years before the NSCP was launched. The program was launched because the gov’t saw the benefit of school chaplains and thought it could benefit more students if it was given funding to reach more schools. That’s why the majority of chaplains are Christian. In 2006 the gov’t didn’t just arbitrarily say to themselves- let’s give Christians money to get into schools and evangelize. Chaplains were already there, supporting students.

      “NSCP chaplains are frauds.”
      come on, that’s just being childish.

      Reply
  11. dangersteg

    Thanks for the reply Janice but I prefer to converse with those who don’t take their cues on rational discourse from Today Tonight.

    Reply
  12. Janice Wallace

    Too late. You’ve already started. How about a response outlining what you object to?

    Or are you one of those new style Christians who are not the least bit capable of tolerating any difference?

    Just because you have stated your opinion here does not mean it is the last word on the matter.

    Strangely enough, other people have a view too.

    Signed,
    The School Janitor,
    Janice Wallace

    Reply
  13. Jack

    You obviously aren’t aware of the rigorous training that does go into becoming a chaplain. These people are hardly the “largely unqualified religious practitioners” you mentioned.

    Reply
    1. Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear: Assorted Rants on Religion, Science, Politics and Philosophy from a bear of very little brain Post author

      Oh, Jack, don’t make me laugh.

      1. Until the last week there has been no minimum standard for training for school chaplains.
      2. Chaplains in some states could be and have been appointed with no training whatsoever – but with a commitment to complete some ‘in house’ training within 12 months. That means there have been chaplains with no more than a High School Certificate working with at risk kids in schools.
      3. The Effectiveness of Chaplaincy report confirms that only 2.5% of school chaplains are qualified in counselling or psychology.
      4. Most professionals – particularly those working in mental health areas – require a tertiary degree or higher. When chaplains have completed a three year full-time degree in counselling or youth work, then I might agree their training has been ‘rigorous’. But even then I would be dubious. Psychologists require 7 years training to qualify. That’s what I would call rigorous.
      5. A Certificate IV in Youth Work is the new minimum standard. It takes only 7 months part-time to complete. This is hardly ‘rigorous’ training.
      6. SUQ itself says that “Most Chaplains aren’t trained, qualified professional counsellors. It would be a misrepresentation to describe them in that way.”
      7. The current selection criteria for SUQ makes no reference whatsoever to any requirement for formal training.

      Reply
  14. Jack

    Also you don’t seem to understand the role of a chaplain at all – most of your article is complete misinformation.

    Reply

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