Questioning The National School Chaplaincy Program

The Government has already provided $165 million in the past three years to schools across Australia. So far, this fund has been distributed to about 2,700 schools. On average, therefore, each of the participating schools has received about $20,000 a year.

This program was due to end late 2010. However, last November, Kevin Rudd announced that the government will spend another $42 million to extend the program. Given that we are allocating about $55 million dollars a year on funding this program, it is worthy of examination.

Most of this fund is paid to ‘chaplains', who are mainly religious workers. Apparently, these ‘chaplains' are paid to provide ‘chaplaincy services'. Many chaplains are supplied by an organisation called the National School Chaplaincy Association: an association of Christian organisations that includes Scripture Union and GenR8.

What exactly are these services? Chaplaincy Services can be largely divided into two major categories: Pastoral Care and Spiritual Guidance [1].

PASTORAL CARE

Pastoral Care includes p roviding guidance to students on issues concerning human relationships, assisting school counsellors and staff in the provision of student welfare services, providing support in cases of bereavement, family breakdown or other crisis and loss situations; and being readily available to provide continuity and on-going support for individual students and staff where necessary.

In what ways are chaplains better at providing support in cases of bereavement, family breakdown or other crisis situations than any other human being who studied and gets paid to perform these jobs in the secular world? Aren't there existing individuals, groups, institutions and regulators in psychology, social work and counselling already working on these problems, having done research and developed systems and processes to administer this sort of help?

Since these chaplains are not qualified to give helpful advice – the likes of which are provided by qualified experts and professionals – what are they being paid to do, exactly?

SPIRITUAL GUIDANCE

Providing Spiritual Guidance includes:

• Supporting students to explore their spirituality

• Providing guidance on religious values and ethical matter

• Facilitating access to the helping agencies in the community both church-based and secular. (Please note that by law, chaplains are obliged to refer people to secular institutions to seek professional help anyway. Effectively, this provision simply makes it alright for chaplains to refer people to churches as well.)

ANALYSIS

Since chaplains cannot really help in a way that friends, families and professional experts help a particular individual, the only new purpose they serve is to guide people to churches. Is it not conceivable that the objectives of the program like the ones above, give rise to a cynical view of the role of Chaplains? If we re-phrase these statements, is it not more rational to believe the Chaplains are put in place to:

• Get students to ask questions that would lead them to doubt their beliefs

• Once students begin doubting their beliefs, chaplains then lead them to believe that morality comes from religion or that religion has all the answers they seek

• Once the students are emotionally or mentally destabilised, the chaplains refer students to churches

In my opinion, The National School Chaplaincy Programme is simply paying chaplains $55 million a year to be provided the opportunity to proselytise and recruit new members to religions.

Imagine an education system with Scientologists, Muslim Clerics and Christian Chaplains hanging around in schools competing for the fresh minds of young converts!

Apparently, in deliberating over this decision, Kevin Rudd funded a study to find out whether the Chaplaincy Program was working. This study was aptly named: The Effectiveness of Christian Chaplaincy in Government Schools. One of the two researchers involved was a Uniting Church minister employed by the Christian Research Association and the study was commissioned by the National School Chaplaincy Association itself. In other words: the very same people who stand to benefit directly from that extra funding have been asked to advise decision makers whether or not they should receive more funding. Of course they were going to give the Programme a glowing report with the highest marks!

Dr John Kaye (The Greens) criticised the study commissioned by the Chaplaincy Association for its unsound research methods which led to the conclusions that, “according to principals, 97% of chaplains have been effective” and that the Programme “enhanced linkages between community and schools”.

These claims are in stark contrast to the results of a separate survey conducted by Dr Philip Hughes (Edith Cowan University) and Professor Margaret Simms (University of New England), who approached 1,626 public schools with Christian Chaplains. In their survey, only 42% of the principals, less than 6% of the teachers and 2.5% of the parents actually responded [2].

On what information is our religious Prime Minister basing his decision to further the National Chaplaincy Programme? In the mean time, bible lessons are being taught in regular classes in Queensland [3], teachers are discriminating against atheist students and a school chaplain has been removed from her job over her suggestive online chats with a 12-year-old boy! [4]

CONCLUSION

The National Chaplaincy Program threatens the barriers that separate Church from State by paying $55 million a year to provide Christian Chaplains, and those who benefit from training and certifying them, the opportunity to proselytise and recruit new members to religions. It is wrong for any democratic and secular government to use tax payers' money to help them do it. It would be wrong for the rest of us to remain complicit in this state of affairs. Along with fellow Australians, I will be by the desks at the Atheist Convention to gather as much support against further funding of The National Chaplaincy Program as possible.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Marquez Comelab is a Melbourne Atheist and is the author of The Tyranny Of God: Liberating Ourselves From Our Own Beliefs . Visit WWW.REASONISM.ORG .

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[1]Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. “Frequently Asked Questions”. http://www.deewr.gov.au/Schooling/NationalSchoolChaplaincyProgram/Pages/nscp_frequently_asked.aspx#dochaplainshave (Accessed 10 March 2010)

[2]The Daily Telegraph. Maralyn Parker. “Public Schools Do Not Need Christian Chaplains”. http://blogs.news.com.au/dailytelegraph/maralynparker/index.php/dailytelegraph/comments/public_schools_do_not_need_christian_chaplains/ (Accessed 9 March 2010)

[3]The Australian. Caroline Overington. “Genesis Of Complaint”. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/features/genesis-of-complaint/story-e6frg6z6-1111118226335 (Accessed 9 March 2010)

[4]Sunshine Coast Daily. Mark Bode. “’Suggestive’ School Chaplain Dumped. http://www.sunshinecoastdaily.com.au/story/2009/07/28/chaplain-suggestive-msn-chats/ (Accessed 9 March 2010)

In what way does this article relate to you? Do you agree or disagree? Why? Why not?


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