School Chaplaincy

Religious groups are claiming that taxpayer funding for school chaplains in public schools — a program costing hundreds of millions of dollars — is necessary to protect freedom of religion. At the same time, those groups are condemning the Safe Schools program as “indoctrination of children into the LGBTI lifestyle”.

In the 2014 horror budget, the Abbott government managed to find $245 million to fund the chaplaincy program out to the end of the 2017-18 financial year. Tuesday’s budget could result in the Turnnbull government axing the controversial program — which Abbott had made even more controversial by removing the option for schools to hire secular workers in the place of chaplains.

In a submission to a parliamentary inquiry on freedom of religion, the National Schools Chaplaincy Association — which represents the employers of chaplains in about 2000 government schools in Australia — said that freedom of religion in Australia required government policies to nurture and support the promotion of religion. The group argued that removing the teaching of religion in schools was a form of “secularism” and a threat to freedom of religion:

“The exclusion of religious conviction or belief from educational settings, including by not allowing space for the exploration of belief as part of a student’s development at school, is a very serious threat to the human right to the freedom of religion and belief. For the human right to exist, Australian children and young people must feel supported and safe to explore religion and belief, including in a school environment. “

The group called for the Commonwealth and state governments to continue to fund the program “as a program of religious chaplaincy in government schools, which supports the human right to freedom of religion and belief”.

[Your guide to groups that think marriage equality would bring on the apocalypse]

The group claimed that school chaplains were not “coercive” in their push of religion in schools and in yet another submission, Outreach Ministries complained that Christians were no longer given a “privileged entitlement” to push their form of religious education in schools. They claim an environment of censorship of their religion, and that chaplains receiving funding under the Commonwealth program were advised by ACCESS in Victoria and YouthCARE in WA to not teach anything religious to students:

“Why? For fear of losing the funding. That is, they can’t say anything religious, can’t invite religious presenters in to the school.”

Outreach claimed that there was “an increasingly strident pro secular-humanist bias within the education system”, and they believed that treating a lack of belief as the neutral position in public debate was inaccurate. They argued that the increasing view that religious belief was a private affair and one not to be discussed publicly was an attack on freedom of religion.

Many of the submissions to the inquiry from religious organisations claim concern about the advancement of LGBTI and women’s rights trampling over their “religious freedom” to discriminate against LGBTI people by firing them, or freedom to target women outside abortion clinics, and many raise concerns about the Safe Schools program. The Family Council of Western Australia claims that Safe Schools is “nothing less than a device for the total indoctrination of children into the LGBTIQ lifestyle”.

“[Safe Schools] pressures students into accepting homosexuality and transgenderism as normal; and, that as a result traditional, cultural, moral and religious beliefs on sexuality are unacceptable.”

The Australian Family Association claimed the program is “a transparent indoctrination of the students into the LGBTIQ lifestyle”. FamilyVoice Australia argued that religious exemptions in anti-discrimination law needed to be extended to other law, including the Disability Discrimination Act:

“Priests and ministers exercise important positions of authority within a Church. For very good reasons a religion may not wish to engage a person who has a mental illness and displays disturbed behaviour. Such behaviour would adversely affect a Church service, which is sacred in nature. “

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference claimed there would be more pressure on faith-based schools to adopt Safe Schools if marriage equality became law. The Australian Human Rights Commission in its submission stated that there was a “complexity of balancing competing rights” between religious rights and the rights of LGBTI people to be protected from discrimination.

“On one hand, some argue that anti-discrimination laws do not adequately protect LGBTI people from discrimination, in part due to the exemptions provided to religious bodies. Others consider that these exemptions are too narrow and do not provide sufficient scope for religious organisations to manifest their beliefs and act in a way that is consistent with their purpose, unjustifiably limiting freedom of religion.”

Peter Fray

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