More thoughts on the National School Chaplaincy Program

I recieved a new comment on my post Federal Government condones religious discrimination that really hit home because it was an actual case of discrimination, rather than a theoretical one. Tarnya wrote:

I am a Social Worker and have completed a masters paper in spirituality in state schools. I have worked as a school counsellor for more than five years, yet under John Howard’s scheme I am ineligible to apply for the recently announced positions of chaplain as I do not have a Christian affiliation which is deemed suitable by Scripture Union (the employing body).

So that got me thinking again, and I wanted to post a few more thoughts. When the original issue came up, I tried to engage both sides of the argument with a sort of middle ground stating that invariant of personal religious or atheist inclinations, the Government’s National School Chaplaincy Program should be recognised as irresponsible and divisive. I commented on Peter John Chen (against policy and religion), and Matt Glover‘s (for policy and religion) blog posts concerning the subject (to see if I could sway either side).


I think that the common theme from many opponents of the program is the assertion that this program will necessarily lead to religious education. I think bundling an argument against religious tuition with an argument against this program complicates the issues and provides an easy target for for supporters of the program to unfairly stereotype and criticise opponents.

To some degree, it is easy to feel that evangelism is a valid concern. The Scripture Union Western Australia website lists the following on their Secondary Schools Work page (emphasis added):


Working together with the churches in your community to impact your local secondary school…

Having a positive impact on the students, encouraging them to live life to the full and discover a relationship with God…

Unity amongst the local churches, a community Christian presence in the school…

However, I’m confident that such evangelism as a Chaplain is generally frowned upon (particularly in public schools). Regardless, there is no reason to even discuss this issue when there are more fundamental problems with the policy: discrimination against people seeking employment in these roles without a recognised religious affiliation, and an unfair bias towards private schools (which are predominantly religious).


A common response from supporters of the program seems to be:

How can it be discriminatory when it benefits all students?

This completely misses the point. Imagine if only men could become teachers. It’s like saying that isn’t discriminatory because these men will educate all students. It’s not the students who are being discriminated against, it’s the women who can’t become teachers! Similarly, the government’s National School Chaplaincy Program asserts that only those with a recognised religious affiliation can provide pastorial care.

Even if the chaplains provide services to all students (without a religious bias), that point is entirely moot. The discrimination lies in those that are prevented from working in that role based entirely on their lack of religious affiliation. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they are atheist; It could well be that the person is simply of a different faith or denomination to the sponsoring religious body.

Final Thoughts

Let’s not make this into a religion vs. atheism issue. It’s about problems in a specific Government program. There is clearly public discord created by the program requiring religious affiliation. This creates divisions and hostility within the community. By embedding discrimination into this program, the government condones discrimination, and fosters and justifies feelings of inequality and bias.

Discord would not be present if the Government’s policy was more sensitive to these issues and made clearly non-discriminatory. For example, say that the Government pledged $90m to a National Personal and Social Wellbeing in Schools Program (NPSWSP) and clearly stipulated that persons who fill the supported positions must simply be accepted by the school and parents association.

Under such as scheme, I would imagine that a vast majority of funding would still go to support Chaplains (as they fulfill this role in a large number of communities). However, it would not overtly discriminate against those that are suitably qualified, but not affiliated with a religious organisation (even if these cases are few and far between). There would be no reason for animosity.

Given the option of the divisive NSCP or an inclusive NPSPWSP, why would the government propose the former? Is it because they are careless (at best) or antagonistic (at worse)?