Federal Government condones religious discrimination

The Australian Federal Government has recently committed $90 million to fund chaplains in public and private schools. This overt act of religious discrimination is absolutely astonishing. Whatever happened to seperation of church and state?

Workplace Relations Minister, Kevin Andrews said:

I think there is a broad concern in the community, amongst parents and indeed amongst a lot of young people, that having someone like a counsellor – like a chaplain – that they can go to and talk to is very important

Even if you concede that a counsellor could be “like a chaplain”, why not support and fund counsellors rather than chaplains? Why must the candidate have a religious affiliation? Isn’t it more important for them to have professional training?

The government hit back against claims of religious discrimination by noting that the program is voluntary and not limited to any particular religion. Prime Minister, John Howard asserted:

The great majority of people will support this as a very sensible initiative, and I’m quite sure that Islamic schools and Jewish schools will be as enthusiastic about this as Catholic and Protestant schools, and so they should be.

Since when are public schools Christian, Islamic, or Jewish? All goverment schools should be have no religious directives. This funding is weighted heavily towards private schools (which are predominantly religious),

John Howard continued to say:

We’re not going to discriminate, but clearly we reserve the right to say ‘no’ to somebody who’s plainly unacceptable, whatever that person’s background may be.

They are clearly discriminating based on whether the person has a religious affiliation, and the sponsoring religious organisation will be discriminating on whether the person is of the appropriate faith. This discrimination is both outlandish and overt.

Also from John Howard:

Chaplain has a particular connotation, people understand it, they know exactly what I’m talking about.

That particular connotation is that a chaplain is a Christian guidance consellor. It is blantantly ridiculous that a professional youth counsellor, who is not a member of a major religious organisation, would be inedligible for funding under this scheme. It is similarly ridiculous that an untrained, religious person would be eligible and hired in preference.

This motion communicates that the government believes that faith plays a bigger role in ethics and proficiency than any other factor. This is not only misguided, but also grossly offensive to secular people and mental health educators because it indicates that the government completely disregards years of training in preference for religious affiliation.

Update: I encourage everyone to write to John Howard and Kevin Andrews regarding this issue. I also encourage complaints to the Human Rights & Equal Opportunities Commission which deals with “breaches of human rights by or on behalf of the Commonwealth” and in particular “the impairment of equal opportunity in employment on particular grounds including: religion…”.

Update: I added my letter to John Howard to the comments section of this post.

Update: The ABC website is reporting that the Greens and the Federation of Parents and Citizens’ Associations are opposed to this plan.