4-year funding is due to expire in May for the National School Chaplaincy Program (NSCP) — but fundamentalist MPs want it renewed and expanded by 25 per cent!
By Brian Morris
Nothing more could be done — four years of federal funding had effectively been spent. Prime Minister Tony Abbott made sure of that in 2014 — he guaranteed payments of $240 million to each state and territory to keep the flawed National School Chaplaincy Program (NSCP) afloat until 2018.
Defying a second High Court verdict — that ruled federal funding of NSCP was invalid — the wily PM simply gifted the cash in the form of grants to each state, allowing them to fund school chaplains directly. Unsurprisingly, state governments weren’t squeamish about the continuing problems with NSCP — they just wanted the cash — and schools saw chaplains as a no-cost benefit; additional staff that couldn’t possibly harm students.
Looming in May is the federal budget, where the chaplaincy scheme is due to lapse. But conservative MPs are lobbying the Treasurer — himself a devout Christian — to breathe new life into NSCP, and expand the legion of 3,000 school chaplains by a further 25 per cent. The anachronistic scheme has already cost taxpayers $750 million and religious lobbyists want to make it a round one-billion.
Evidence from every child psychologist and education expert has been ignored at the end of each funding cycle. Explicitly they argue school chaplains do more harm than good. But the genuine interests of schoolchildren — especially LGBTI kids — are trammelled in the stampede by schools for more cash — and a desire by zealous politicians to further Christianise public education.
Professor David Zyngier specialises in educational research. He says there are enormous pressures on children today, and schools need access to psychology professionals to help in times of stress — they don’t need spiritual guidance from chaplains when schoolwork suffers due to social, emotional, or family circumstances. And there’s an endless list of education, psychology and youth organisations who point directly to the long-standing failings of the chaplaincy program.
All MPs need to rise above religion and politics at this May Budget — and think about child welfare!
A rational parliament would simply allow NSCP to lapse. Either let it die a natural death or — alternatively — provide the necessary funds for properly trained youth professionals. Growing ranks of today’s kids have genuine emotional difficulties that manifest at school — they need support from qualified specialists with the requisite skills to assist.
What is most troubling is the power of many religious lobbies who see school chaplains as an essential band of “Christian soldiers”. State regulations bar them from proselytising in schools, but that is impossible to monitor. Almost all chaplains are recruited by evangelical churches in each state — with many stating clearly their “mission” is to make schoolchildren “disciples of Christ”.
Attracting kids to ‘out of school’ activities is a stated objective — sport, excursions, and camps. Scripture Union operates in Queensland schools and, like evangelical chaplain-providers in other states, it has a camping program. Their website boldly states; “every camp sets aside a time for faith discussions, where participants have a chance to explore the Christian faith …”
Australia leads the western world in school religion. More than 40 per cent of children now attend private religious schools — for a secular country that figure raises concerns. We compound the problem by allowing the nation’s public schools to become entrenched recruiting grounds for fundamentalist churches.
Federal and state parliamentarians — those who subscribe to the principles of secular democracy — need to think more seriously about the NSCP scheme. It’s not a benign program helping kids — it’s run by evangelists and staffed by 3,000 largely unqualified chaplains with a religious agenda.
Ask any group of chaplains to answer “honestly” — is your mission to bring children to Jesus? Without doubt, most will say “yes”. Government schools are not recruitment camps for religion — and on that basis alone, NSCP is fatally flawed and needs to be scrapped. Let it lapse. Now.
Brian Morris is Media Director of the National Secular Lobby. He is a former journalist and managing director of The Publicity Agency. He is the author of ‘Sacred to Secular’. More information about Brian can be found on his website, Plain Reason.