Wednesday 18 June 2014

It's time to end the National School Chaplaincy Program

The National School Chaplaincy Program was quickly hatched as a pork barrel to conservative Christians by John Howard in 2006. The program has been controversial since its inception, with teachers, counsellors and psychologists opposed to poorly qualified chaplains having access to vulnerable young students.

Shortly before the 2010 election, Julia Gillard pledged to Jim Wallace that the NSCP would continue its "unique flavour though its link to the Christian faith." In 2011, 96.5% of school chaplains were Chrisitan, while only 61.1% of the population marked "Christian" in the census that year.

Peter Garrett has admitted that the NSCP had problems with evangelism, requiring "significant guideline changes" to protect children from "churches with their mission to evangelise." Garrett stated "the line between chaplains acting to support students in the provision of general pastoral care and proselytising was too easily crossed."

The Australian Education Union has criticised the fact that 100,000 students with disabilities do not get the financial support they need, while funding for exclusively religious chaplains is prioritised. The Australian Psychological Society slammed the NSCP funding decision as "appalling." A spokesman stated "There are no reasonable standards of quality of training for people who take on essentially counselling roles in the school situation."

Today, the Black Dog Institute and Mission Australia released a report finding that one in five young people struggle with a mental illness, but few seek help. With studies finding that poorly qualified counsellors can give harmful advice, the government desperately needs to invest more money in supporting the mental health of young Australians with qualified mental health professionals, not enthusiastic missionaries.

Already 189,000 Australians have signed a petition calling on the government to cut funding to anti-gay chaplains. Senator Louise Pratt has outlined the problems with chaplaincy that have been aired by current and former school students:

My best friend was getting bullied by other students last year for being gay, so went to speak to our school chaplain about it. ... He suffers from anxiety and depression, has attempted suicide in the past and occasionally self-harms. He spoke to our chaplain about being bullied and about how he has begun to believe what people are saying about him being a 'fag' and 'a disgusting, gay idiot'. ... The chaplain told him that his bullies were right and that homosexuality is a degrading sin that sends people to hell. .... That night I got a phone call from his Mum telling me he had tried to overdose on medicine pills and was in hospital having his stomach pumped.  
And here is another:
... this term the Chaplain warned us against ... non-marital sex. When I asked him about what a lesbian couple of faith would do if they couldn't get married, he simply replied that gay and lesbian people could never be proper Christians. … He went on to talk about how ... gays and lesbians were ... unnatural, indecent and perverse. ... this event made me feel as if my sexuality was something to be ashamed of. I consider myself a strong person, and for this to affect me so deeply made me realise the dangers of mixing religion with public education.

Polls have found that only 5% of Australians want the government to remove secular welfare workers from the scheme. In 2012, the the High Court found that funding arrangements with Scripture Union Queensland were beyond the executive power of the Commonwealth. Legislation was quickly rushed though the parliament in order to bypass the court's decision.

The High Court will hand down a new decision on the legality of the funding arrangements tomorrow.

Sydney Atheists calls on the government to scrap the National School Chaplaincy Program, and to properly support children with disabilities, and fund qualified mental health professionals to give professional help to vulnerable young students.

We urge our members to contact their NSW representatives with any concerns about the program.

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