Chaplaincy Program – the good news and the bad

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Way back in February 2011 I wrote about the efforts of Ron Williams to derail the national schools’ chaplaincy program. At issue is the nearly 1/2 billion dollars of public money handed out to the Scripture Union and Access Ministries, to embed their disciples in public schools. These disciples are known to be carriers of the now-famous reliobacter rationalbrianius germ, hence Ron’s concern for his children.

Ron took the the case to the High Court (the peak federal court in Australia), challenging both the right of the federal government to fund such things and also the church-state separation issue.

Well the decision has finally been handed down, and while the press has all been about how Ron Williams took on the system and won, I’m afraid he and his supporters will, on reflection, consider it a hollow victory.

The good news is that the High Court ruled (6-1) that the Commonwealth government did not have the constitutional right to make such payments, without the backing of legislation, which is the case for the chaplaincy program.

The bad news is three-fold: Firstly, the other proposition being tested, that public schools should not be a vehicle for the promotion of religion, was defeated. This is most unfortunate since in my mind it is the main game. Many, if not most, people want to send their children to school safe in the knowledge that they are not being infected with anything, other than a deep curiosity about the universe, and perhaps the ability to spell and add up a little bit.

Secondly, the federal government has been moved to re-affirm its spending on the chaplaincy program, regardless of the decision. In other words, they will find another way to make it happen, possible through new legislation, or, channel it through the states.

Thirdly, and most unexpectedly, the decision that this type of spending is unconstitutional has broader application than just the chaplaincy program. It may be that a lot of other very worthwhile programs may be cut or derailed as a result of this decision.

Brave attempt Ron, but if ever there was a time for a face-palm, or a Simpsonesque ‘Doh’, it’s now.

And I can just hear those jackals at the Scripture Union and Access Ministries cackling away.


10 thoughts on “Chaplaincy Program – the good news and the bad

    Dan Rea said:
    June 22, 2012 at 12:27 am

    I was dumbfounded when I found out about there being a chaplaincy at my old high school last year… I was certain it was not legal; especially in a country where my primary school banned colouring-in pictures of Christmas scenes for political correctness. It really dusgusted me that taxpayer money was going into this crap; whether you’re religious or not.

    When I heard on the radio this evening that it had been sunk I gave a big whoop of approval. This post has dampened the celebrations. I reckon we should go properly religo-political-correct and have a little mosque and a wee jewish temple in schools. Maybe even some budda statues.
    Never mind the crappy health system and strained education budget; as long as kids have some crackpot to encourage them to talk to imaginary friends the country should be just fine.

      rationalbrain said:
      June 22, 2012 at 7:13 am

      Yes, sorry to rain on your parade.
      I am a little confused over why it’s only me who reads it like this however. Wonder why that is?

    Dan Rea said:
    June 22, 2012 at 1:50 pm

    I think there’s bigger fish to fry, and amongst other more pressing and global concerns our little Australian chaplaincy issue just doesn’t get as much personal-research time spent on it. Your post has made me think that maybe I should spend more time looking at stuff on this side of the border.

    This is all political maneuvering, but I think most people (even ‘kinda’ christian people) would acknowledge that this sucks; it really is not absurd to make an analogy between this and a mosque in a school, and I’m pretty sure that such an idea would create an outrage complete with a ‘current affair’ article.

    We should be more interested in this domestic stuff. Today I read that the ‘QLD Premier Literary Awards’ have been axed, but there’s money for chaplaincy woo-woo? BAH!

    By the way, this is a top-notch quote:
    “Many, if not most, people want to send their children to school safe in the knowledge that they are not being infected with anything, other than a deep curiosity about the universe, and perhaps the ability to spell and add up a little bit.” -rationalbrain
    –I give that a 10/10!

      rationalbrain said:
      June 22, 2012 at 2:10 pm

      Well, thanks for the rating! Feel free to use it.
      But you’re right about the sort of passive acceptance by our society of some of these things. I put it in the same basket as private schools in general, though this is a bit more controversial for most people. I simply do not believe that the public purse should fund a number of special interests, especially if those special interests are completely fictitious and irrational.
      Just look at the difference between whatever that last religious love-in was – it had a public contribution of funds. But the Global Atheist Conference? Not a cent. I jokingly suggested the next star trek convention should be publicly funded, and let’s see the outcry from those whingeing about special interest groups.
      It seems to me remarkable that those right-wing nutters and shock-jocks who continually bleat about big government and having government stay out of our face in general, are first in the queue for funds to perpetuate their business, or their privileged position in society. BAH indeed.

    Dan Rea said:
    June 22, 2012 at 2:28 pm
    @blamer said:
    June 25, 2012 at 6:18 pm

    Reading, Riting, Rithmetic, and Religion.

    I know this was a legal decision, but Church-state separation is proving very difficult to sell to the aussie public, presumably because most people simply don’t have a problem with schools teaching kids a little about that great bloke Jesus.

    From the point of view that hey the bible is basically true (clearly some bit are fables) and that religion teaches kids useful lessons about how to treat others… well why shouldn’t the christian be okay with the pollies frowin a few mill’ to these well-meaning locals who wanna help out?

    The whole framing of this is spirituality Vs the big bad world, so it makes some sense to the average aussie that a few more bucks will be flowing back in that direction to help stem some of that moral decay they’re seeing all around them these days.

    …which is of course more church-made bollocks.

    So the question is; how to convince your liberal Catholics or Anglicans that firing these chappies is going to make society a whole lot better? Discuss. Your time starts now. Go.

      rationalbrain said:
      June 25, 2012 at 6:52 pm

      Subject:Rational Discourse
      Answer:You cite the benefits, which no doubt make a little sense to the public. However, what about the dis-benefits? Like, oh, untrained pimply (but well-meaning) youths teaching myths as fact, teaching kids to suspend disbelief, displacing RRR, and practicing bush-psychology in the guise of pastoral care.
      Just sayin.

        @blamer said:
        July 11, 2012 at 4:23 pm

        Unfortunately that “practical” approach of weighing up the evidence seems to trip over itself.

        Asking parents to start balancing the pro’s against the con’s is (I suspect) inviting them to upgrade their confirmation bias to full-blown motivated reasoning. It has become a matter of defending what’s morally right from “those nay-sayers over there”.

        A more “principled” approach [sorry] might be to ask state school principals whether they’d recommend to the poor US government that they start outsourcing their child services to rich mega-churches like we’ve started doing down here.

    Dan Rea said:
    June 26, 2012 at 1:30 pm

    It could always be worse…

    One difficulty I’ve been thinking of is how most people assume educators know what they’re doing. Being a little familiar with k-12 curriculum I can say they really have a clue about cognitive development, but emotional development and a couple of other abstract skills are simply assumed to develop. In this area, I am confident in saying that educators have little idea about what should be done. I’m pretty sure a lot of them are religious though… I asked my high-school principal of a decade what he thought about the chaplaincy program. His response:
    “I regard the chaplain as another “safe pair of hands”. Some one to assist in an area of real need;student welfare. Not to teach religion. Charged with nurturing the spiritual health of students and staff.”
    He’s entitled to have this opinion I suppose, but I worry about the legion of fence-sitters who might agree with him purely because he’s a principal and thus “must surely know what he’s doing”.

      @blamer said:
      July 11, 2012 at 4:39 pm

      State school principals here are underfunded and understaffed, so how can they say no to an extra pair of hands. The system will give them $20k worth of help from a 3rd party “service provider”, or they get nothing. It’s a coercive proposition.

      If the service provider to the state wasn’t evangelical christian, we’d be having a different debate. This is clearly church-state, but clearly nobody hears the alarm bells. They think it’s business as usual.

      If they ever got a scientology chappie, they’d quickly want a monotheist replacement. They fail to see this issue from a religious-minority family’s point of view. It’s getto-izing the public system.

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