The chaplaincy programme in state schools throughout Australia is now under threat from the new Labor government. This will be to the detriment of student wellbeing. Chaplains provide vital support for our children, particularly those in disadvantaged circumstances.
Jane Caro recently wrote an article expressing how offended she was at the chaplaincy program in state schools. Unfortunately, Caro is happy to impose her irreligious atheism on the majority of her fellow citizens while denying them the freedom to have their own beliefs. Little wonder so few Australians voted for her in the election, as the following graph illustrates:
Since John Howard introduced the chaplaincy program in 2006, it has spread to 3,000 schools across the country, with people of all faiths contributing chaplains. Anecdotally, my own observation in talking to non-religious parents is that the program has done much good, for which they are deeply grateful.
FamilyVoice is now reporting though, that less than a month of being in power, the Albanese Labor government “has announced a change to the National School Chaplaincy Program that will effectively see the end of school chaplains.”
Significantly, the new Prime Minister is seeking to “dump the compulsory religious requirement for the program”, thus making sure “thousands of schools will be vulnerable to pressure from radical activists demanding that they dump their chaplains in favour of a secular alternative.” As social researcher Amy Isham recently wrote regarding the parameters and benefits of the program:
The chaplains I know haven’t had an opportunity to teach much religion at all. They have committed themselves to working to build positive relationships at school and have helped in a difficult high school where many children are in cycles of problematic choices.
One of my friend’s main focuses has been teaching communication and relationship skills while encouraging educational aspiration. Caro seems to be referencing the chaplaincy from her youth and has literally no empirical knowledge of current chaplaincy programs.
This is what we’re in danger of losing if the current government gets its way. Sadly, the Labor government at both federal and state levels are showing every sign of continuing its discrimination against people of faith. For instance, the Premier of Victoria, Daniel Andrews announced on Tuesday:
The Andrews Labor Government is today making the biggest single investment in student mental health in Australian history — delivering the support young Victorians need to grow up happy and healthy, and catching mental health concerns earlier so children aren’t slipping through the cracks of the system.
The Labor Government will invest $200 million to expand the successful Mental Health in Primary Schools program to every single government and low-fee non-government primary school in Victoria — 1800 school campuses.
Scaling up across the state from 2023, by 2026 every school will employ a Mental Health and Wellbeing Leader to implement a whole-school approach to wellbeing.
This will support individual students, help teachers better identify and support at-risk students, and build relationships and referral pathways to local mental health services.
Not only is two hundred million dollars a massive financial investment, but it overlooks the excellent work that thousands of people of faith already do. Much like military chaplains in the armed forces, school chaplains provide more holistic care for the person that includes — but also goes beyond — the psychological.
Sadly, we are increasingly losing our soul as a nation, especially when we fail to understand people as having been made in the image of God (Genesis 1:28). We’ve been made to worship Someone greater than ourselves, as well as relate to one another in a way that reflects this reality.
If the chaplaincy program loses its religious focus though, then our children will not be encouraged to explore deeper issues of faith and meaning. And that will ultimately be to everyone’s loss. As Stephen McAlpine argues in Third Space:
Here’s the thing: societies are at their healthiest when there is freedom ‘for’ as opposed to freedom ‘from’. They just are. The history of the 20th century has proven this to be so. The 21st century continues to prove it.
Liberty of conscience — to practice faith publicly and allow it to inform your civic life — or indeed not to practice a recognisable faith at all — is a freedom we should not take lightly. Confident governments that will look after their citizens’ interests have proven to be secular in a most pluralistic manner.
Photo by Karolina Grabowska.