Chaplaincy and religious education in state schools

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PostPosted: Sat Jul 02, 2011 9:23 am
Anglican Church queries school chaplain program
Leesha Mckenny and Dan Harrison
July 2, 2011


THE legitimate place of religion in NSW government schools might be put at risk by the misuse of the National School Chaplaincy Program, the head of Sydney's Anglican Education Commission has warned.

Bryan Cowling, the executive director of the peak body for the Anglican Diocese of Sydney, said well-established special religious education preserved the secularism of NSW schools while providing weekly faith instruction for those who wanted it.

But he told the Herald that chaplains - with the term's religious connotations - might blur the distinction between faith and welfare, increasing the chance of misuse by proselytising, which might call into question access granted to schools for special religious education, also known as scripture.

''If it's a welfare position and a welfare role, why not call it that rather than call it a chaplain?'' he said. ''I just think it's a clumsy way to do things.

''Stepping outside the government guidelines leaves it wide open for people to say 'let's get rid of religion out of schools altogether'.''

Dr Cowling said there had been documented instances across the country where the role had been misused.

A High Court challenge, which contends the chaplaincy program contravenes the separation of church and state will be heard next month.

It has been mounted by a Queensland father, Ron Williams, who was concerned chaplains had delivered religious counsel rather than impartial advice.

Despite the definition on the federal government's website, Dr Cowling said that ''there are thousands of [chaplains] around the country and they're each defining it as they see it or their schools are defining it as they see it''.

The term might also mislead the religious community ''into thinking that these people are promoting religion when in fact they're not supposed to''.

The lack of any minimum welfare qualifications demanded by the federal program was also a concern, he said.

''In this particular area, we're pretty much saying, 'This is a pretty serious issue you're dealing with but you don't need to have any particular credentials'.''

Dr Cowling's comments reiterated the commission's opposition to the program when it was announced in 2006.

''Our view was, in government schools, the best response would be to put more money into more counsellors and particularly people trained in dealing with difficult situations,'' he said.

The funding, which was extended by $222 million in the federal budget, would be better spent if the debate were reframed around health and welfare.

''I'd like to see an informed and robust discussion occur in the community about the most appropriate ways in which to enhance the well-being of kids in schools,'' he said.

''I think that is the bigger issue, and that gets it out of the realm of a religious argument and that gets it into the realm of where the greatest needs are,'' he said.

The School Education Minister, Peter Garrett, told the Herald this week there was wide variety in the qualifications and experience among the chaplains. ''Schools deserve to have a national minimum qualification for their chaplains,'' he said.

Reverend Peter Robinson, the chief executive of NSW's largest chaplaincy provider, GenR8 Ministries, said they were waiting for Mr Garrett to respond to a discussion paper from February that proposed chaplains be required to have an associate diploma in youth work or a similar field.

Mr Robinson said the National School Chaplaincy Association already had minimum qualification requirements.

''There's no argument from GenR8 about the need for minimum qualifications that are important to the role,'' he said.

He said while there was a clear demarcation between special religious education and chaplaincy, the definition of the latter had shifted. ''The people doing it are coming out of a faith framework where the motivation is availability and help and support, not proselytising,'' he said.

''And in a secular school they have found that actually works … where you understand secular to mean what the Education Act NSW has always defined it as, which means non-sectarian, but not non-religious.''

A spokesman for Dan White, the executive director of the Archdiocese of Sydney's Catholic Education Office, said the relationship with parish priests or religious orders meant there was no need for chaplains in Catholic schools. There had been no reports of chaplains negatively impacting on Catholic scripture classes, he said.

Source: http://www.smh.com.au/national/anglican-church-queries-school-chaplain-program-20110701-1gv6l.html#ixzz1QtWyr57l



It will be interesting to see how the High Court rules especially given the definition of chaplain we all know.

chap·lain (chpln)
n. Abbr. Ch.
1. A member of the clergy attached to a chapel.
2.a. A member of the clergy who conducts religious services for an institution, such as a prison or hospital.
b. A member of the clergy who is connected with a royal court or an aristocratic household.
3. A member of the clergy attached to a branch of the armed forces.



Yes school should have somewhere that students can go and talk to a social worker type person but calling them a chaplain is not right.
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 03, 2011 5:16 pm
Thanks for posting that Admiral. Nice to know there are some sensible peeps out there.

I have a friend who was invited to be chaplain to Australian Baseball, and the Australian Academy. There were many applicants for the position, but he was head-hunted. He was a clinical psychologist as well as a minister. So he was amply qualified to serve the position. And the key was "No prosyletizing." He served for 7 years before retiring.
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 05, 2011 8:05 pm
The entire problem with the National Schools Chaplaincy Program is that it *requires* the school, if they accept federal funding for the position, to get a religious chaplain. (The chaplains to which Servalon refers above couldn't have been NSCP chaplains - there's no restrictions obviously on what schools do with their own funds.) The program's official guidelines state that the chaplain must have:

NSCP Guidelines wrote:formal ordination, commissioning, recognised qualifications or endorsement by a recognised or accepted religious institution or a state/territory government approved chaplaincy service.


The only approved "chaplaincy services" are Access Ministries in Victoria, GenR8 Ministries in NSW, Scripture Union in QLD, the ACT and Tasmania, YouthCARE in WA and Schools Ministry Group in SA. Only if these organisations or affiliated churches are incapable of providing one are they allowed to use the funding to get a non-sectarian chaplain, under "particular circumstances" provisions enacted by Julia Gillard while she was Education Minister in 2008. These organisations, while purporting to represent most major denominations, are incredibly evangelical in their focus and clearly see their chaplaincy role as evangelical. Read this quote from Access Ministries CEO Evonne Paddison, for example:

Evonne Paddison, CEO Access Ministries wrote:In Australia, we have a God-given open door to children and young people with the Gospel, our federal and state governments allow us to take the Christian faith into our schools and share it. We need to go and make disciples.


Keep in mind these are state schools. There's no opt out for concerned parents, the chaplain is encouraged to be involved in all school activities regardless of whether the parents approve of this or not, and as 7:30 Report exposed last Monday, there are a number of instances where the program's guidelines have been clearly breached and yet very little has been done about it. Strangely, there is no legislation or delegated legislation putting the scheme into effect - meaning it in effect operates directly out of the Minister's - currently Peter Garrett's - office and does not report to Parliament. And they've just transferred hundreds of millions of taxpayer funds into the bank accounts of these five religious organisations.

And despite the religious test as noted above (that they have to be approved by an accredited chaplaincy organisation or a "recognised or accepted religious institution"), there is no minimum standard for qualifications. The organisations claim to have their own, but these cannot be scrutinised, and given the organisations involved have already engaged in obfuscation, legal action against blogs opposing them, and even poll bombing on The Age newspaper's website, I don't think they can be trusted. Among the scheme's opponents include Professor Gary Bouma, a noted Anglican scholar, Hon Michael Kirby, a former High Court justice who is also an Anglican, and the head of the Anglican Church's Education Commission. link Also Angelo Gavrielatos, the head of the Australian Education Union and prominent advocate for public schools (youtube link - ABC's "Hungry Beast"), and the primary peak organisations for counselling and psychology.

Many Christians have had real cause to oppose the scheme - here in Perth I've been working with a bunch of parents, mostly either non-church-attending or members of more liberal denominations, who are really outraged about the behaviour of certain chaplains in state primary and high schools here. The principals, the chaplaincy authorities and the Minister's office have all been contacted but to no avail, and the chaplains in each case are engaging in outright evangelism, trying to get kids to come along to their churches and putting pressure on them if they come once and decide not to come back. It's really unethical. Claiming "we don't proselytise, we don't proselytise, we don't proselytise" then refusing to act on clear complaints (which even included video evidence in one case) and threatening legal action when people go to the media really says where it's at.

Some additional case studies. From Campbell High chaplain in Canberra:

[A boy atthe school] has tended to be a loner and has been very isolated. He needs friends. As Steve said “If he were to discover Christ and how God sees him, I believe this would transform him”.


From yesterday's "Punch":

A 2009 report into the work of chaplains documented how they were dealing with such issues as depression, self-harm, suicide and grief, yet also revealed a disturbing reluctance to refer to specialist professionals.


And from three different parents:

Just started a new State school. Filled out paper work saying NO to Chaplin service (because there is no service in Chaplaincy). I go to pick the kids up and am greeted by the Chaplain hand in hand with the Principal, who tells me she has just met my kids, given them a gift and told them they can come and see her if they need her (all the while holding a teddy bear). My mind is screaming "How is this different to the techniques used by pedophile?". Now I have to talk to the Principal to discuss what part of No meaning No she doesn't understand!


I don't want my kids growing up with that version of religion. A version that says that although God is a god of love, we should engage in supposedly righteous hatred. Our kids are good kids with a lot of different friends and they have their own belief in God and that's the way we want it to stay. Yet the government seems to think we shouldn't have that right and the wreckers, the people who are doing more damage to Christianity than any non Christian ever could, should be given access to our kids and we don't even have the right to object to that or to the incorrect messages they're "sharing" with the kids. Well, I think that's wrong.


the chaplain at the local high school frequently flyers events at a particular evangelical church where the kids are invited to “witness the Holy Spirit at work”, and by this I mean people foaming at the mouth and having epileptic fits up the front. Kids who go and then decide not to go again get kind of rounded on by both the chaplain and the kids who are going in an immoral attempt to pressure them into continuing. The parents have complained several times to the school with no luck, there’s simply no scrutiny in the scheme. It’s sad because the chaplain at the other high school near here seems like a pretty decent bloke and the kids there speak highly of him. But you measure a system not by its strongest points but by its weakest.


As for the word "chaplain", that was a deliberate part of the design. Howard said in 2006: "Yes I am calling them chaplains because that has a particular connotation in our language. [...] And as you know I'm not ever overwhelmed by political correctness. To call a chaplain a counsellor is to bow to political correctness. Chaplain has a particular connotation, people understand it, they know exactly what I'm talking about."
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 05, 2011 11:06 pm
Damn,so much hard work and good research went into that post, Traveller. It really is depressing, though, and the biggest disappointment is Gillard's and Garrett's role in it all. What are they thinking? No, that's not a rhetorical question. I really want to know what went on in their heads to make them do as they did, but writing to them and expecting a personal reply is not at all realistic.

By the way, do you mind if I copied your post and reposted it elsewhere? If you don't mind, in what form would you like me to credit you with authorship?
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 06, 2011 5:13 am
Fringedweller wrote:Damn,so much hard work and good research went into that post, Traveller. It really is depressing, though, and the biggest disappointment is Gillard's and Garrett's role in it all. What are they thinking? No, that's not a rhetorical question. I really want to know what went on in their heads to make them do as they did, but writing to them and expecting a personal reply is not at all realistic.

By the way, do you mind if I copied your post and reposted it elsewhere? If you don't mind, in what form would you like me to credit you with authorship?


More reflecting the time I've spent on it in the last 6-8 weeks, I think :P As a Labor supporter, I too am confused - this makes perfect sense for a conservative strategy but not for the party of social democracy, which you'd think would be more about improving outcomes by providing trained counsellors to schools who actually know how to help the kids who present the issues the chaplains have noted they try to deal with.

And by all means. Credit it to my usual nick elsewhere (Orderinchaos) - that nick's already burned with my unintentional Page 11 feature in the Age newspaper a few weeks ago :P
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 06, 2011 11:07 am
Great post traveller.

Has clarified some misunderstandings for me. Also suggests that my experience is the exception, not the rule. If I were 20 years younger I would follow up.
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 06, 2011 1:33 pm
Totally agree about religion/chaplains place in schools. ie - none. In fact I pretty well believe organised religion is the root of all/most evil. That's another issue.

But this is interesting.
traveller wrote:Some additional case studies. From Campbell High chaplain in Canberra:

[A boy atthe school] has tended to be a loner and has been very isolated. He needs friends. As Steve said “If he were to discover Christ and how God sees him, I believe this would transform him”.

Miss cleo attended Campbell High. She is the product of her upbringing and is possibly more anti religion than I am. She said this guy was pleasant, easy to talk to, and she has no recollection of him pushing "the message" whatsoever. She would definitely say hello to him in the corridor/playground, and had occassion to take a friend in need to see him at least once.

As always when reading studies, reports, statistics, news articles, whatever, we need to keep in the back of our minds WHO has written them. In this case the Christian Fellowship are pushing their barrow re religion=good/helpful. Not saying their case study didn't happen as stated, just that there may be a perception by readers that Campbell High students were somehow at the mercy of some evil god botherer. Definitely not the case - much as the CF might like to believe otherwise. ;)
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 09, 2011 3:11 pm
The challenge regarding the constitutionality of the National School Chaplaincy Program has commenced today with a three day hearing in front of the High Court. Summary of proceedings so far here.
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 20, 2012 3:47 pm
The High Court challenge has been upheld. Commonwealth funding of the National School Chaplaincy Program has been ruled unconstitutional. Image

From the judges' verdict:

"By majority, the High Court held that the Funding Agreement and payments made to SUQ under that agreement were invalid because they were beyond the executive power of the Commonwealth."

Disappointingly, the other ground for deeming Commonwealth funding of the NSCP unconstitutional was rejected on a technicality.

"The High Court unanimously dismissed that part of Mr Williams' challenge based on s 116 of the Constitution. Relevantly, s 116 provides that "no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth". Mr Williams contended that the definition of "school chaplain" in the NSCP Guidelines imposed a religious test for that office, and that the position of a "school chaplain" wasan "office ... under the Commonwealth". The High Court held that the school chaplain engaged by SUQ to provide services at the School did not hold office under the Commonwealth. The chaplain did not enter into any contractual or other arrangement with the Commonwealth."

SUQ stands for Scripture Union Queensland. It is that state's contractor that supplies the chaplains.
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Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful. - Lucius Annaeus Seneca (attrib.)
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