Monthly Archives: August 2010

The Australian Book of Atheism


Over 18 months ago, Warren Bonett and I were having dinner in a pub at Noosa. He said, “I’m thinking of doing a book on Australian atheism.”
I said, “Great idea! I’ll help.”

I hurried home and drew up a long list of possible contributors and Warren pretty well did all the rest!

I can remember Woz and I swapping excited emails as amazing people we’d admired from afar said, “Yes, we’ll contribute!”

I don’t think either of us had any clue just how much work it would involve  and Warren –  with help from his partner, Kirsty Bruce, Karen Stollznow and our friend, Jode –  has done the vast bulk of the work while also running his science-based bookshop Embiggen Books at Noosaville (also online).

There were worried weeks when we wondered whether it would find a publisher and then jubilation when Henry Rosenbloom, the founder of Scribe, contacted Warren personally to accept the book.

Weeks of editing followed and, now that the book is in its final stages, Scribe has announced a publication date of December 2010. Scribe is touting The Australian Book of Atheism as its ‘anti-Christmas’ book.  The book is an anthology of essays from around 35 Australian authors including:

My chapter took months to research and more months to write and polish.  Ambitiously (OK – over ambitiously) it covers the history of Australian atheism and freethought from 1788 to the present.  I was astounded at the amount of material I uncovered – some of it hilariously  funny and some it heart-breakingly sad.  I finished the chapter feeling that this country’s heritage and national identity owes a good deal more to irreligion than to Christianity.

And now, in just a few short months, our book will be on the shelves of  Australia’s major book stores!  I really can’t describe the excitement to see this little idea, hatched over a couple of glasses of wine in a pub, come to fruition!

I do hope my readers will add it to their ‘Mythmas’ list.

Pre-orders can be made now, for a discounted price at Embiggen Books.

Chrys Stevenson


19 August 2010 –  The chapter list for The Australian Book of Atheism has been released. I’m very proud to be in with the first chapter and amongst such prestigious company. Take a look! Pre-orders available now – publication late November/December:

  • Chrys Stevenson [Historian], Felons, Ratbags, Commies and Left-Wing Loonies [The history of Australian atheism]
  • Max Wallace [Australia New Zealand Secular Assoc], The Constitution, Belief and the State
  • Clarence Wright [Lawyer], Religion, and the Law in Australia
  • Robyn Williams [The Science Show, Radio National], A Part-time Atheist
  • Dr Colette Livermore [former Sister of Mercy nun], Atheism: an explanation for the believer
  • Tanya Levin [former Hillsong member, feminist, author People In Glass Houses], Above Rubies
  • Hon. Lee Rhiannon [former MP, Senate candidate], Growing up Atheist
  • David Horton [BA, BSc, MSc, PhD, DLitt – biologist, archaeologist], Agnostics are Nowhere Men
  • Tim Minchin [entertainer], Storm
  • Hugh Wilson [Australian Secular Lobby], Public Education in Queensland
  • Peter Ellerton [Australian Skeptics, Winner of the 2008 Prize for Critical Thinking], Theology is Not Philosophy
  • Professor Graham Oppy [Philosopher of Religion], Evolution vs Creationism in Australian Schools
  • Graeme Lindenmayer [Rationalist Society of Australia], Intelligent Design as a Scientific Theory
  • Kylie Sturgess [Podblack Cat/Token Skeptic], Atheism 2.0
  • Dr Martin Bridgstock [Senior Lecturer, Biomolecular and Physical Sciences], Religion, Fundamentalism & Science
  • Dr Philip Nitschke [Founder/Director Exit International], Atheism & Euthanasia
  • Alex McCullie [blogger, CAE tutor on Atheist Philosophy], Progressive Christianity: A Secular Response
  • Dr Leslie Cannold [Bioethicist], Abortion in Australia
  • Jane Caro [Author, Social Commentator], Why Gods are Man-Made
  • Dr Karen Stollznow, Spiritualism & Pseudoscience
  • Rosslyn Ives [Council of Australian Humanist Societies] Life, Dying & Death
  • Hon. Ian Hunter MLC, Prayers in Australian Parliament
  • Lyn Allison [former Senator], Ever Wondered Why God is a Bloke?
  • Michael Bachelard [Journalist], Politics and The Exclusive Brethren
  • Dr Russell Blackford [Philosopher, co-editor 50 Voices of Disbelief], Free Speech
  • Dr John S Wilkins [Philosopheer], The Role of Secularism in Protecting Religion
  • Warren Bonett [Editor], Why a Book on Atheist Thought in Australia?
  • Dr Robin Craig [Geneticist, Philosopher], Good without God
  • Ian Robinson [Rationalist Society of Australia], Atheism as a Spiritual Path
  • Professor Peter Woolcock [Humanist, Ethicist], Atheism & the Meaning of Life
  • Dr Tamas Pataki [Philosopher], Religion & Violence
  • Dr Adam Hamlin [Neuroscientist], The Neurobiology of Religious Experience
  • Dr Rosemary Lyndall Wemm [Neuropsychologist], The Neurology of Belief


Here, courtesy of Embiggen Books, are some wonderful videos of presentations by Warren Bonett, editor of the Australian Book of Atheism, and Russell Blackford one of the authors.

Gladly’s Book Recommendations

Gladly’s looking forward to a very large pot of honey once those royalties start rolling in!  If you can’t wait until December to read a great book on atheism, try these books which you can order online from  Embiggen Books.

The Australian Book of Atheism edited by Warren Bonett (pre-order now at discounted price)

50 Voices of Disbelief by Udo Shucklenk and Russell Blackford

Hope Endures by Colette Livermore

The Purple Economy:  Supernatural Charities, Tax and the State by Max Wallace

Behind the Exclusive Brethren, Michael Bachelard

Against Religion Tamas Pataki

People in Glass Houses, Tanya Levin

A Case Against School Chaplaincy: Part 3 – Gay Teens at Risk from School Chaplaincy

If Alex’s Wildman’s suicide (discussed in my previous article) raises concerns about the National School Chaplaincy Program, consider the teenagers who are probably most at risk in our schools. Research studies reveal that one-third of all teenagers who commit suicide are gay. Considering that gay teens only comprise one-tenth of the school population, this means that they are 300 percent more likely to kill themselves than heterosexual youth.

So to whom do we entrust these vulnerable young people? Evangelistic, fundamentalist Christians. As Adele Horin wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald:

“… Religious institutions remain the last bastion of bigotry. They have resisted the evidence from health and legal professionals that homosexuality is a normal part of human sexuality. They have instead maintained a hardline interpretation of a few scattered references in the Bible.

… Church leaders should be spreading a message of love and acceptance of gays. Instead, they are part of the problem.”

The Australian Coalition for Equality’s spokesperson, Rod Swift, says his organisation has concerns about the abilities of chaplains to counsel young people dealing with issues of sexuality. But are those concerns misplaced? Let’s look at what one of the organisations which supplies chaplains to Australian schools thinks about homosexuality.

GenR8 Ministries says they ‘utterly reject and repudiate’ the assumption that homosexuality should be regarded as ‘acceptable sexual behaviour’. Instead, they are in favour of ‘a healthy and wholesome society in which young people are brought up effectively to their full humanity.’

What? Rewind that. Are they really suggesting that homosexual people are not ‘fully human’??? Is that the message their chaplains give to young people who come to them with issues about sexuality?

GenR8 opposes efforts to:

“enforce favourable attitudes to groups with sexual practices that are proscribed in, not only our authoritative Scriptures, but in the teachings of other major religions.”

They note that:

“Homosexual activity as with heterosexual fornication and adultery are serious sins in Christian theology and Biblical teaching, and we are committed to teaching this.”

This attitude, of course, contravenes the policies of Australia’s public education departments and GenR8 are well aware of this. GenR8 Minisitries freely admit the conflict in values:

“There is increasing awkwardness in teaching Christian sexual ethics when schools have secular humanist policies that clearly conflict with this teaching.”

They go on to complain that:

“… to be asked to collude in wrongdoing of such a kind as this that does so much damage to the people involved themselves as well as giving the worst kind of messages to young people trying to consolidate their sexual identity and form healthy relationships with proper sexual discipline is totally unacceptable to us.”

Chillingly, GenR8 note that they do not oppose homosexuality, per se, only homosexual acts which they regard as ‘fornication’. They add that the idea of same sex marriage is ‘repugnant’. Their view, clearly expressed, is that sexual activity outside of marriage is unacceptable, and that gay people should never be allowed to marry – and therefore, should never be permitted to express their sexuality physically.

Given this, we can expect that the advice given to a troubled gay teen by a GenR8 chaplain would be either:

a) change or deny your sexuality (or, indeed, ‘pray the gay away’) or,

b) accept your sexual ‘inclination’ but look forward to a celibate life with no prospect of physical intimacy with a life partner of your choice and, of course, no children.

Can you imagine the psychological torment such advice inflicts on a sensitive teenager?

Former Jesuit, William Glenn a graduate of a Catholic high school which embodied these kinds of attitudes describes his experience as a gay teen:

During puberty’s final onslaught I came to believe that I was evil. And more: that I was sick, sinful and unacceptable in the eyes of the world. All our culture’s words and notions and judgments came home to roost in me, a 16-year-old gay boy, whom the world, let alone his parents, could not know. But finally, and primarily, I came to believe that I was unacceptable as a human being in the eyes of God. The more I prayed to be changed, which was the concentrated content of my prayer (deeply aware that I had not chosen this but believing it was visited upon me because of my sinfulness), I regarded my not changing as God’s judgment on me. [I was] abandoned .. to despair because the person I had become could effect no change, could not desist from either my feelings or my desires, no matter how hard I fought them or prayed to be delivered from them. In the end, I was utterly alone.

But, according to GenR8, this isn’t really a problem because:

“The issue has not yet emerged to our knowledge in relation to our chaplains – perhaps partly because they do not have a formal religious teaching function and are not to proselytize.”

Strange, then, that the 2009 National School Chaplaincy Association (NSCA) report (quoted by the Australian Psychological Society) , found that 40% of school chaplains say that they deal with issues of student sexuality. But GenR8 are Christians – they wouldn’t lie, would they?

So, how do chaplains deal with students who have issues relating to sexuality? I don’t doubt that many are sensitive and accepting but I also have no doubt that many are not.

In a letter to the Atheist Foundation of Australia, for example, a former student of Victoria Point High School alleges that the chaplain was distributing “Jack Chick” style anti-homosexual pamphlets to students.

In Western Australia,  ‘Anita’ – a teacher with two teaching excellence awards – alleges that, until recently, her school had “a chaplain from the Church of Christ who handed out anti-gay leaflets”. That same chaplain, says Anita, refused to provide pastoral care for a gay student:

“He did not counsel a gay student who’d had a knife held to his throat. That same student came back to school the next day because his mum had taken it to the police who said they [couldn’t] do anything about it… He headed back to school and was beaten up that day by the other students…”

When Anita suggested that some measures should be put in place for LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transexual) students the chaplain sarcastically replied, “Why don’t you do something for left-handers?”

Shocked, Anita said that she would:

“… when he could tell me about left-handed people who are not allowed to be open about being left-handed, who are beaten up at school because of it, thrown out of their homes, labelled as pedophiles and rejected by their families…”

Anita’s championing of gay students was not a hit at her previous school, either. She tells the story of being paired with the chaplain in the staff’s ‘Kris Kringle’ (similar to Secret Santa). Of their exchange of gifts she says:

“I received…a cactus in a little pot with a blue ribbon on it… A banana and two kiwi fruits … A cucumber with a red condom on it with a Father Christmas face on it …  And a cheap shitty Christmas stocking …”

A chaplain in regional WA confessed that, even if she knew a student was gay, she wouldn’t take any action unless it became ‘an issue’. This is chillingly reminiscent of the Alex Wildman case, with the school waiting until it was too late to intervene with an ‘at risk’ child. Given that research evidence shows clearly that gay students are most at risk before they come out to anyone, the approach of waiting for students to come out before providing support could be deadly.

The WA chaplain defended the lack of proactive support for gay students. She feared that if she talked about homosexuality, the kids might want to try it. She felt that talking about the subject might somehow ‘glorify it’. But research at Deakin University has found that the only effect of pro-active education about homosexuality was to reduce teenage students’  homophobic attitudes and behaviours. Teaching kids about homosexuality in no way made them more prone to experiment or to become more sexually active. Of course, we could expect a trained counsellor or psychologist to know that. We can’t expect an unqualified chaplain, whose church tells him that homosexuality is a sin and can be ‘cured’, to either be familiar with, or to accept, such research.

Julia Gillard’s announcement that a re-elected Labor Government would spend another 220 million of tax-payers’ dollars to expand the current National School Chaplaincy Program by more than 33% should outrage every parent. How much more responsible it would be to spend that $220 million – or more – on full-time, qualified counsellors for our kids. It’s not as if the chaplains are a complement to counsellors. School counsellors, it seems, are nearly as rare as hen’s teeth! Take a look at the results from a 2008 study of the ratios of counsellors to students in our public schools.

ACT – 1 counsellor to 850 students

NT – 1 to 2500

NSW – 1 to 1050

QLD – 1 to 1300

SA – 1 to 1994 (at best)

TAS – 1 to 1800.

But, is our government committing more money to counsellors? No, they are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on unqualified people with a religious agenda! As my friend, Sean the Blogonaut (a teacher himself) says, “Who would you prefer to work with your troubled teen? A qualified counsellor or a retired motor mechanic?” (the only professional qualification of a chaplain of Sean’s acquaintance).

What price do we put on our children’s welfare and mental health? This should be a national scandal! What would be the reaction if adults needing psychological assistance were told by Medicare or their private health fund to visit their local minister or pastor instead – because it was cheaper?

The National School Chaplaincy Program must be stopped. It is nothing more than a means by which politicians are attempting to buy votes from right-wing Christians. It has nothing whatever to do with the best mental-health outcomes for our children.

Julia Gillard’s announcement shows that she is willing to sacrifice Australian children’s welfare in return for Christian votes. That is, quite frankly, sickening. It now appears that the only way to stop this ill-advised and dangerous program is the High Court action which will challenge the scheme on constitutional grounds.

It was announced, this week, that high-profile Sydney barrister, Bret Walker, SC will lead the legal team engaged for this land-mark constitutional challenge. The importance of having the case represented by such a leading figure in Australian law cannot be overstated. Walker is one of Australia’s leading barristers. He has been president of both the NSW Bar Association and the Law Council of Australia and Governor of the Law Foundation of NSW. He is Editor of the NSW Law Reports and Director of the Australian Academy of Law. It is exciting that such a high profile, well-informed, legal luminary believes that Ron’s case is strong with a high chance of success.

Walker will be supported by barrister, Gerald Ng, and the law firm, Horowitz and Bilinsky. The next step in the legal process is approaching, and further details will be released when it occurs.

In the meantime, if you have read this series of articles –

Part One: A Fox in the Henhouse

Part Two: Russian Roulette

Part Three: Gay Teens at Risk from School Chaplaincy

and you share my concerns about the National School Chaplaincy Program, I urge you to dig deep and donate to the High Court Challenge team.

Chrys Stevenson

8 August 2010: The Prime Minister, Ms Gillard, will today announce an allocation of $222 million to boost the number of chaplains in schools by more than one-third, which would mean about 3700 schools will be covered under the voluntary scheme introduced by the Howard government.

First time comments on this blog are moderated, but will be approved as soon as possible.

Further Action

If you oppose the National School Chaplaincy scheme, please donate to the High Court Challenge against National School Chaplaincy.  A paypal facility is available on the website.

Ron Williams, a parent from Toowoomba, is bravely taking on the government and arguing against this scheme on constitutional grounds.  He has recently announced that high profile lawyer, Bret Walker SC will lead the legal team. Walker will be supported by Gerald Ng, Barrister, and the law firm, Horowitz and Bilinsky.

Note – money raised for the High Court Challenge goes into a trust for the payment of legal fees, not to Ron Williams and his family. For a small (or large) investment, this is a chance to be a part of Australian history.

Gladly’s Book Recommendations

Gladly’s favourite book store for online purchases is Embiggen Books.  If you’ve found this article interesting you may enjoy this further reading:

Same Sex Different Cultures: Gays and Lesbians Across Cultures by Gilbert H Herdt

What Should We Believe? by Dorothy Rowe

Similar Articles

Jesus weeps for Gillard the hypocrite, Ben Sandilands, The Stump

A Case Against School Chaplaincy: Part Two – Russian Roulette

Australia’s national school chaplaincy program was introduced by the Howard government in October 2006 and continued and expanded by the Rudd Government.  Provided at enormous cost to Australian tax-payers, the result is that over 2,000 state schools currently employ chaplains, providing the chaplains and their churches with direct exposure to approximately 720,000 children (Overington, 2008).

My first article in this series argued that it is a pointless exercise, for all concerned, to place evangelical Christians into schools and then tell them they can’t promote their theistic beliefs.  This article will deal with another misleading claim of the National School Chaplaincy Program – that is, that chaplains do not counsel students.  In this article, I will argue that chaplains do counsel students and that this is tantamount to playing Russian roulette with children’s lives.

First, it is important to note that chaplains require no formal secular academic qualifications. Scripture Union, one of the major bodies contracted to supply chaplains to schools explains:

“Most Chaplains aren’t trained, qualified professional counsellors.  It would be a misrepresentation to describe them in that way.  Even if some Chaplains do have formal counselling qualifications, it would be sending the wrong message to stakeholders and the public about what Chaplains are and do.”

In fact, the Effectiveness of Chaplaincy report confirms that only 2.5% of school chaplains are qualified in counselling or psychology.

Of course, the government and the organizations which supply chaplains claim this isn’t a problem because chaplains are not permitted to offer ‘counselling’ to students.  Really?  I contend that this is a matter of semantics – and Scripture Union reveals why.

“There are legal ramifications that come into play when you use the terms ‘counsellor’ and ‘counselling’.

Obviously, there will be times when Chaplains will be involved in talking one-on-one with students, staff and/or parents about issues and problems that they’re facing, but Chaplains should be involved in nothing more intensive than high-level pastoral care.”

So, chaplains don’t provide counselling – they provide ‘high-level pastoral care’.  And in what areas is this ‘pastoral care’ put to use?  According to the Effectiveness of Chaplaincy Report (2009),  chaplains have been called in to help with children’s anger issues, grief and loss, bullying, peer pressure and self esteem as well as self harm and suicide. Even more concerning, according to the Rationalist Society of Australia, is anecdotal evidence suggesting that the more devout the chaplain, the less likely they are to refer students to professional services.

In another document, Access Ministries quotes a chaplain saying:  “At the moment…., in the last week I’ve got two Grade 5 kids on suicide watch.”

Scripture Union continues:

“The language used is important.  The term ‘counselling’ should be avoided.  ‘Pastoral Care’” or ‘pastoral conversations’ are much better terms to use when describing this element of a Chaplain’s role.  This is not intended to be ‘sneaky’ [really?] but rather to accurately describe and represent the Chaplain’s role.”

So, let’s get this straight.  Chaplains are not allowed to evangelise or counsel students.  Apparently, what they are allowed to do is to have ‘pastoral conversations’ during which they are prohibited from offering advice or offering prayer or religious faith as a solution.  So, what exactly do they do during these ‘pastoral conversations’?  Pat the student’s hand and mutter “There, there”?  Whistle Dixie?

As former senator, Lyn Allison says:

“I find it difficult to imagine a chaplain who is engaged with students and young people who have problems – and that’s where they will largely be used – to not be involved in counselling.”-

The Christian Research Association appears to agree, explaining that:

“Most school chaplains spend much of their time in pastoral work. They counsel young people who are referred to them, or those who come to them voluntarily”.

Note that in this quote the words ‘pastoral work’ and ‘counsel’ are used interchangeably.

Let’s be honest about what taxpayers are investing in with the National School Chaplaincy Program.  We are placing untrained, unqualified people with a religious agenda into our public schools to support and, yes, counsel, at risk kids.  Consider this job description by a chaplain who worked at Balwyn State High School :

“Teenage suicide, depression, grief associated with separation or divorce or death, questions of sexual identity, illness, abuse, physical disability, drug use and teenage pregnancy are issues which the school chaplain confronts day in day out.”

Later promoted to a supervisory role, she continues:

We as supervisors constantly worked with moving stories of chaplains supporting students who were pregnant and needed to make hard choices about whether or not to have the baby, with chaplains journeying with students who come out as gay, or who struggled with their own attitudes to homosexuality, chaplains ministering in a time of community grief after an accident had led to the death of one or more of their students, or a range of other pastoral situations.”

Nobody doubts these people are well-meaning, but I might be equally well meaning if I attempt to extract someone’s appendix with the intent of making the pain go away.  The fact remains that my total lack of training in medicine means there is every likelihood I’ll kill them instead.  Good intentions are no defence.

Experts agree that what is needed in schools are not chaplains, but trained counsellors.   Speaking on behalf of the NSW Teachers Federation, Angelo Gavrielatos said:

“At a time of ever increasing social pressures on children, what is needed is an enhancement of professional school counselling services. Currently the school counsellor to student ratio stands at about 1:1000 in NSW schools. This money for the National School Chaplaincy Program would be better spent on additional school counsellors to achieve a more manageable caseload.”

The Parents & Citizens Council agrees.  President, Elizabeth Singer, complains  that schools are being forced to turn to school chaplains because of inadequate funding and teacher training for crucial development programs.  She says:

”Funding has not been available in another form that they [schools] could use so they have had to turn to chaplains. … ‘We have received complaints from families that schools are having to rely on chaplains to meet the social and emotional needs of the students. In government schools there is a feeling that this should be delivered by secularly trained people.”

In a submission to the government, the Australian Psychological Society (APS) says: –

On a number of occasions since the establishment of the NSCP, the APS has been contacted by members who are concerned about chaplains who have been employed in schools to provide mental health counselling to students. This has occurred either instead of or in replacement of school psychologists.”

The APS complains:

  • That the government is supporting a scheme which allows unregistered and unqualified school chaplains to work outside their boundaries as spiritual and religious personnel;
  • That there is clear evidence that school chaplains are engaging in duties for which they are not qualified;
  • That there is clear evidence that church organisations and ministries are supporting school chaplains in their boundary violations;
  • That the NSCP promotes a combination of religious guidance and mental health service provision, which is in contrast to mainstream evidence-based service provision;
  • That the government is complicit in encouraging dangerous professional behaviour by funding school chaplains independently of other services carried out by professionals who are both qualified and registered.

Let me reiterate here:  teachers don’t want the scheme;  parents and citizens don’t want it; and the people most qualified to deal with our childrens’ mental health say the program is dangerous.

The upshot of this misguided policy is that school communities who would prefer to have financial assistance to employ a trained counsellor – or to extend a part-time counsellor’s hours to full-time – are prohibited from doing so.  And trained counselors who are qualified and willing to work as ‘chaplains’ but are not associated with a religious organization are also disqualified.

For example, I have been told that  Vermont secondary school in Tasmania declined to have a school chaplain because they wished to maintain a secular school.  Instead, they wanted to apply the government funding to a youth counsellor with no affiliation to a church.  This was denied. Surely this is religious discrimination?  As social worker, Tarnya, posted on an internet blog:

“I am a Social Worker and have completed a masters paper in spirituality in state schools. I have worked as a school counsellor for more than five years, yet under John Howard’s scheme I am ineligible to apply for the recently announced positions of chaplain as I do not have a Christian affiliation which is deemed suitable by Scripture Union (the employing body).”

Bioethicist and teacher, Chris Fotinopolous, explains the problem confronting schools:

“There is no doubt that mental illness places a strain on already stretched school welfare resources. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2004-05, 7 per cent of children aged under 15 years were reported to have some form of mental or behavioural problem as a long-term health condition, with rates rising from very low levels among children aged under five years to 10 per cent of children aged 10-14 years.

But, because of the direction of funds to the NSCP, rather than qualified counselors, Fotinopolous says:

“… government schools are impelled to accept $20,000 a year for the implementation of a chaplaincy program not because they see a need for religious observance in schools, but rather as a means of securing desperately needed welfare assistance for students at risk. Considering these statistics, no school could be blamed for accepting federal funding for welfare assistance, but the Government does deserve criticism for attaching desperately needed funds to a church-led school welfare program.”

So, what is the harm?  What can happen when, instead of funding a full-time trained counsellor in a school, the government provides a part-time counselor and a full-time chaplain?

Let’s consider the case of fourteen year old Alex Wildman,  Alex, a student at Kadina State High School in Lismore, was the victim of long term, relentless bullying and physical abuse by his peers.  Yet, despite having spent a ‘significant’ amount of time with Alex over several months, the school chaplain admits that he “… never picked up that he [Alex] was being harassed.”  Notably, the school counsellor had no dealings with Alex during the sixth months he was at Kadina and the school acknowledges that “No real attempt was ever made to encourage Alex to see the school counsellor”.  Perhaps they believed, misguidedly, that with the chaplain working with the child, there was no need.

The extent of Alex’s problem only came to light when Alex was punched repeatedly in the face by a fellow student.  The chaplain’s response was to approach Alex on assembly the next day and ask if he was OK.  Alex replied, “ I’m fine … it’s all cool now…”  and, apparently, the chaplain took him at his word.

The next day Alex hanged himself.

Let me make it perfectly clear, I am, unequivocally not blaming the chaplain for this incident.  I do, however, blame the government that made this teenager’s first line of support a person who obviously had insufficient training to pick up on the signs of a child in danger.  The chaplain is as much a victim in this as anyone.  He was put in a position for which he was clearly unqualified.  He failed to see the signs that a trained counselor may have noticed.  He failed to ask the questions that might have encouraged Alex to share his concerns.

Of course, I can’t guarantee that if a full-time counsellor had been employed at the school, Alex would still be alive.  But it is sobering that, after examining the circumstances of Alex’s death, the coroner made particular note of the need for a full-time professionally trained counsellor at the school.

National School Chaplaincy is a dangerous programme which short-changes our children and plays Russian roulette with their lives.  Sure, chaplains are cheap in comparison to trained counsellors, youth workers and psychologists – but is this really an area where we should be skimping on cost?  I understand, absolutely, the claim that chaplains provide a valuable resource by being ‘out there’ interacting with the children rather than sequestering themselves in their offices.  But that is not an argument for school chaplaincy – it’s an argument to change the way counsellors work in schools.

In the next instalment of this series, I will argue that the group most at risk from this ill-advised scheme are teenagers who are, or think they may be, gay.

Chrys Stevenson

Update – 8 August 2010: The Prime Minister, Ms Gillard, will today announce an allocation of $222 million to boost the number of chaplains in schools by more than one-third, which would mean about 3700 schools will be covered under the voluntary scheme introduced by the Howard government.

First time comments on this blog are moderated, but will be approved as soon as possible.

Further Action

If you oppose the National School Chaplaincy scheme, please donate to the High Court Challenge against National School Chaplaincy.  A paypal facility is available on the website.

Ron Williams, a parent from Toowoomba, is bravely taking on the government and arguing against this scheme on constitutional grounds.  He has recently announced that high profile lawyer, Bret Walker SC will lead the legal team. Walker will be supported by Gerald Ng, Barrister, and the law firm, Horowitz and Bilinsky.

Note – money raised for the High Court Challenge goes into a trust for the payment of legal fees, not to Ron Williams and his family. For a small (or large) investment, this is a chance to be a part of Australian history.

Gladly’s Book Recommendations

Gladly’s favourite book store for online purchases is Embiggen Books.  If you’ve found this article interesting you may enjoy this further reading:

What Should We Believe? by Dorothy Rowe

Similar Articles

Jesus weeps for Gillard the hypocrite, Ben Sandilands, The Stump