Federal School chaplaincy plan

Posted: October 31, 2006 in Atheism, Australia, Education, Religion

The Federal Australian Liberal Party Government, with their new proposal, has once again shown that they are completely out of step with modern educational practices. They have stated they wish to, in a ninety million dollar program; give every public school $20,000 so that they can hire a religious chaplain to act as a counselor in ethical and spiritual matters. So what’s wrong with that? Read on for a full explanation…

To begin with, it shows that budget priorities seem to be greatly skewed. Public schools need funds for maintenance, money for more classroom teachers, grants for more equipment and resources. Those are things that schools need to be able to successfully deliver a proper education, things that are quite often missing. Why have a school sporting a leaking roof or aged buildings at all? Common sense dictates that a twenty thousand dollar grant for schools to buy equipment or make repairs to buildings would be a lot more useful than having a pastor/preacher/father/priest/whatever come in to talk about religion.

Religion, simply put, does not belong in the public education system. If one wants learn about the religion of their choice then it needs to be something that is done at home or at a local church. Schools are there to teach children how to think, to teach them skills, to teach them how to be objective and critical thinkers. The last thing the already vastly over worked classroom teachers need right now is to have to correct the falsehoods incorporated into various pieces of religious doctrine.

That is not to say that having counselors in the school environment is a bad thing – just the opposite in fact. Children often experience trauma in their developing years and they sometimes do need professional help in coming to terms with such events and experiences, yet this grant only accommodates for chaplains and will not cover the hiring of professional counselors. Why not? These are people who have had far more training and are far more qualified to handle children’s trauma. If the Government wants to really help children, then direct the $20,000 grants to hiring people who have been properly trained and who are fully qualified to do the job.

The Government also hopes that the Chaplains will be there to help teach values to children. Fantastic, since religious organizations have such a wonderful track record of not fighting and bickering … or burning people at the stake, or helping to shelter pedophiles. In short, believing that religious groups have some sort of monopoly on values and morality in ignorance of a high order. Values, believe it or not, are already part of the curriculum; the Victorian Essential Learning Standards, for example, covers it under the thinking domain. Various other classroom programs, such as ‘You Can Do It!’, also examine areas such as personal values and how best to get along with your peers. Simply put, chaplains aren’t needed to teach such things and they certainly are not the best people to be doing so.

The scheme itself is badly designed to say the least. What about schools that lie in areas that have a wide diversity of religious beliefs? What if a third of the students are Christian, third are Muslim, third are agnostic or atheist? Break it down even further … what if the chaplain is catholic and a number of the students belong to a protestant church? Will Pagans be accommodated under the scheme? How about Scientologists? Oh wait, the Government has stipulated that the grants will only be for mainstream religions that it recognizes and reserves the right to withdraw the grant for chaplains it regards as inappropriate. Very convenient and seems to betray what must be the core motive of the scheme, to assist in indoctrinating young impressionable minds into Christian beliefs instead of getting an objective and rational education.

The scheme is wrong on so many fronts, you could justifiably label it as sickening.

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Comments
  1. Ervin says:

    Isn’t there a Supreme Court in Australia? If so, can it overturn laws like this if a suit is brought before them?

    The reason I ask is because back in 1963 here in the US, a woman named Madeleine Murray O’Hare fought against prayer in public schools and managed to take the case all the way up to the US Supreme Court. She successfully argued that public school prayer was a clear violation of the principle of separation of church and state.

    Of course, this begs the question: is there such a principle in the Australian consitution (or equivalent)?

  2. Since the Australian Constitution was written in a completely different context, the short answer is no. s 116 provides that the Commonwealth will not make any law to establish any religion, impose any religious observance or prohibit the free exercise of any religion (there’s another part that’s completely irrelevant here). However, this protection has never been successfully argued in the High Court (not the Supreme Court – that’s a lower Court in Australia). And I don’t see how having a chaplain is any different to having scripture classes. Not that I personally agree with the idea – many public schools already have counsellors, and religious schools usually have their local priest/pastor/whatever to fulfil the role. The money could be better spent elsewhere. But the Howard government is conservative, and will continue to push conservative values and bully the education system into doing what it wants. I’m not necessarily saying that there’s no place for religion in public schools, just that there’s no place for the government to push certain religions on to students in public schools.

  3. Daniel says:

    I do not agree with the hiring of chaplains when the money can be used in other areas or in the hiring of neutral consellors, etc. I do wish to clear up something though.

    Chaplains can be (but need not be Christian). Generally, they are interfaith and serve those in a non-organized setting. Chaplains can therefore represent Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, etc. Does that mean the Australian government would hire those? No, of course not, but one should not represent Chaplains in general as being those who are meant to brainwash impressionable young minds.

    When I was growing up, the schools did not teach me “how to think” but rather “what to think”. They taught whatever curriculum they seemed to desire to have taught. They purchased school books and other teaching aids from the cheapest bidder. I understand that schools are supposed to teach “critical thinking skills”, but most of the time, this is not the case. In the U.S. one may note that the public is starting to fight back more and more and that while separation of church and state is perhaps a good thing, that the content taught in schools should be somewhat moderated. This problem will likely rage on for several years to come.

  4. Getting religion out of schools is a great way to start planting the seeds of skepticism and thought in kids’ heads. I wish they would drop the pledge of allegiance in American schools… It’s clearly religious, and there is no good reason why they should let children associate a unconstitutional rhyme written by a socialist minister in the 1800’s with their patriotism.

  5. Eli says:

    @Willem,

    You have the history of the pledge slightly skewed…Yes, the original pledge was written by Francis Bellamy (a socialist minister) in 1892. However, it was not “clearly religious” for the original wording is as follows…

    ‘I pledge allegiance to my Flag and (to*) the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.’

    In 1924, it was then changed to…

    ‘I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America…

    In 1954, Congress then added the words “under God” so that it was…

    …one nation under God, indivisible…

    From 1954 to present it became “religious”. Just because a minister originally coined it does not mean that it is not a viable heritage (and a patriotic one at that)…Congress could very easily rescind that deistic portion “under God” and it would still be a very patriotic little pledge. Why drop it completely?

  6. Willem says:

    Eli, thanks for correcting me on that. The reason to drop it completely is that if there is even an ounce of religious matter in it, it is unconstitutional, and therefore should not be promoted by state officials or state bodies. Not all taxpayers and Christian, and many of those who aren’t, don’t want their tax money to go towards religious ends.

  7. Willem says:

    *I made a grammatic error above… it should read “Not all taxpayers ARE Christian”.

    Sorry!

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