AUSTRALIAN COUNCIL FOR THE DEFENCE OF GOVERNMENT SCHOOLS
PRESS RELEASE 416
LEGAL CHALLENGE TO CHAPLAINS IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS
REACHES FIRST BASE
4 February 2011
The battle against chaplains in public schools reached the High Court of Australia on Thursday 27th January.
Ron Williams has been successful with the initial hearing. The judge decided there is a case to be heard. It will go to court in May.
Public school parents in New South Wales and Queensland have heard more about this than those in Victoria, largely because of the work of Max Wallace from the Australia and New Zealand Secular Association, Maralyn Parker on her Telegraph Blot and the website of Save Our Schools (SOS). The following information on Maralyn Parker’s Blog inspired a lot of responses. The most informative and interesting commentary by far is that by Richard Ackland in the Sydney Morning Herald of 4 February, 2011, p. 13. His article is entitled Religiously Follow the Rules, or Catch Church in Bed with State.
Ackland referred to the DOGS case of 1981 ad the ‘furore’ that caused, together with the fact that only Justice Lionel Murphy accepted the argument that decisions of the US Supreme Court which prohibited direct government support for religious institutions should be followed in Australia. He also noted that the ‘majority did not take a particularly broad view of our constitutional provision confining the restraint to laws that sought to ‘establish’a particular religion in Australia. ( The Constitution prohibits the Commonwealth from making any law for establishing ANY religion and this is based upon the First Amendment of the American Constitution. )
On the chaplaincy case he noted that the current case will be heard in May, not as an appeal but as part of the court’s original jurisdiction. He wrote:
The grounds are interesting. The appropriations made could not validly authorise funds for this purpose because there is no specific legislation establishing this scheme. The argument is that appropriation for a new project such as this requires special legislation.
Then there is the crunch constitutional point. Any school chaplain engaged under this scheme holds an office under the Commonwealth. By requiring these chaplains to comply with certain guidelines, a ‘religious test’as a qualification for a government job is imposed. This, it is argued, breaches the constitution.
Maralyn Parker looked at the issue from the point of view of public schools in New South Wales. She informed her readers:
One brave parent from Queensland is claiming the the national school chaplaincy program is illegal and a misuse of taxpayer money.
Pay attention parents of NSW public school children. This court battle is significant because there is an extra $220 million sitting in Julia Gillard’s coffers ready to be splashed around on chaplains.
If it is released this year as planned your public school will most likely get one.
So far NSW public schools have been the least enthusiastic about tapping into the school chaplaincy funds of twenty thousand a year for three years. They would love the money - just not for a chaplain.
Unlike Queensland. Almost every QLD public school has a Christian chaplain. Christian prayers, bible studies and Christian religious symbols are now the norm in everyday public school life.
No wonder the richly funded federal program - $70 million a year - has spawned a raft of Christian chaplaincy providers salivating at the prospect of sending their troops into NSW public schools.
The Christian Research Association in a paper by Philip Hughes puts it like this: “While in some places congregational life is declining, ministry through chaplaincy is growing. With the growth comes new opportunities...’’
NSW public schools, courtesy of taxpayer money supplied by the Federal government, are the new opportunity. …
According to the federal government guidelines, chaplains are supposed to “play a significant role’’ in helping schools “support the wellbeing, values and spirituality of young people’’
But they are not to counsel children, “encourage commitment to any set beliefs’’ or “provide any services for which they are not qualified’’.
However the only qualification a person needs to be a chaplain is to be associated in some unspecified way with a church or religious organisation.
DOGS have a simple point of view.
For over a century, religious men have had the right to enter public schools as voluntary teachers for the purpose of instructing the children of their adherents at set times. There was no money or power involved, and they have largely failed to fulfil their obligations. Now, they want to be paid to be a ‘chaplain’ as a member of staff in a public school. If they succeed, the integrity of our public systems will be severely undermined.
DOGS are not against religion or people with religious beliefs. The problem through the ages, and the current problems behind many conflicts in our present world, are differing religious beliefs. Religious men all claim to have ‘the truth’, but they and their adherents are no longer prepared to put their money where their mouth is. Hence the billions of dollars going to sectarian schools which divide and disadvantage the majority of Australian children in public schools. The next step on the religious taxpayer dollar binge is taxpayer funding for the Chaplaincy in State Schools program.
As individual people, many chaplains are genuine in their beliefs. But history should warn them that their actions contravene the time honoured principle of separation of religion and the State. Their behaviour could have unintended and unfortunate consequences.
How will Christian chaplains respond when Moslem mullahs for example, demand that they should be given the chaplaincy jobs in public schools currently held by Christian s? Should Christian children have Muslim clerics imposed on them? Should Moslem children have Christian clerics imposed on them? And so one and on and on. Yet what is required to be a chaplain is affiliation with a religious organisation – any religious organisation. Already we have public schools which have been ‘captured’ by followers of Steiner. We also have State schools sharing facilities with Catholic schools. Now we have clerics of all kinds on the Commonwealth payroll in public schools.
Is the chaplaincy program just another nail driven by sectarian interests into the Australian public school coffin?
One of the fundamental principles of public education is that it should be publicly accessible to all children and their parents, with offence to none. Mr Williams, like the fastest growing group of Australian parents, is a secularist. He is attached to no particular religion. He adheres to no particular religious belief. Nor does he wish his children to be inducted into such beliefs that are antithetical to his own in their public school. His beliefs, like those of all other parents, religious or otherwise, should be respected.
Religious men and women should be told to respect the freedom of conscience of parents and children who attend public schools. The integrity of our public school systems – systems which are free, secular and universal is too precious an inheritance to give up to priests and parsons in search of financial security.
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