Thursday, August 18, 2011

High Court Challenge to School Chaplaincy Program is a Noble Cause

Recently, a Queensland father named Ronald Williams has made a High Court challenge to the Commonwealth government's school chaplaincy program. Many have dismissed Williams as a grumbling atheist who is simply fighting religious influence (but what's wrong with that?!) and believe that parents will not appreciate the move. Perhaps many parents (and even atheists) see the challenge as going too far, but there are some things that they should consider.

It is indeed true that many parents have praised the program and the number of supportive messages have far outweighed the complaints. This isn't too surprising, considering the chaplains are sure to provide some degree of comfort to the students. But this does not mean that they could not be provided with better care or that an alternative system could not be a marked improvement. Right now, chaplains are all they have got.

Secularists such as Williams are not for a second suggesting that students should not be given support. They are simply saying that there should not be a religious test for giving such support, which is exactly what the program bases itself on. As I have pointed out, 75% of school chaplains are employed by the Queensland Scripture Union, a Christian training institution. Although they are not permitted to proselytise, the purpose of the program is to provide "pastoral care" and "spiritual guidance". Forgive me if I am mistaken to be seeing religious undertones there.

This religious test may very well be a violation of the constitution, hence the High Court challenge. I am certainly not going to point to the likelihood of the Court seeing it this way, but it is true that many have pointed to section 116 of the constitution potentially being violated, as the section forbids the government from establishing religious testing. Perhaps there is not a clear violation, but at least it would clarify exactly where church groups currently stand in regards to government funding, as they currently receive millions of tax-payer dollars each year.

As religious groups have become increasingly frustrated with their efforts to push their way back into the public sphere and indoctrinate children, the school chaplaincy program appears to be a desperate and devious attempt at infiltration of public schools. Theologian Scott Stephens has pointed out that as religious influence has declined, religious lobbying has risen dramatically and has resulted in an increase in government funding. Also, he describes the role of a promoter of Christianity as someone who presents themselves as an example of a follower of Jesus. This is not overt proselytising, but it is a very manipulative and covert way of preaching the doctrines of the bible. By presenting themselves as disciples of Christ, they may very well provide a level of comfort to students, and this helps explain the messages of support from parents. But parents should see past this short-term comfort as a devious attempt at conversion.

Anyway, chaplains are not always so covert. There have been a number of complaints about outright religious preaching, and just recently a Queensland chaplain organised a lecture by the Australian creationist John Mackay. The lecture was a "scientific" look at the biblical account of creation. Perhaps the chaplain and the fanatical scum bag Mackay saw this as a clever and stealth-like way of preaching to students, but our secular education leaves us to be smarter than that.

The religious influence of the school chaplaincy program is abundantly clear, and I for one hope the High Court deems it unconstitutional. I do not, however, wish for students to have no one to turn to in times of trouble. The government should therefore establish an alternative program that has no religious test and will not take the risk of preaching to students. It should also provide better training that goes beyond "pastoral care" and "spiritual guidance", so that students receive practical assistance for their problems.