I have an article on Online Opinion today which addresses some areas of political misrepresentation in respect to Ron Williams’ High Court Challenge to the constitutional legality of federal funding to the National School Chaplaincy Programme (NSCP).
But, as a bonus for my subscribers, regular readers, and anyone else who happens upon this blog , I’d like to address some items I was unable to canvass in the Online Opinion article.
High Court Challenge Funding
The Australian Secular Lobby (ASL) is a citizens’ co-operative. It functions very much like a facebook group. People who are interested can ask to be put on the mailing list, people who need assistance can contact the administrators, but there are no ‘members’ per se, nor are there any membership fees, subscriptions, levies, sponsorships or donations of any kind. There could not be, because the ASL doesn’t even have a bank account. It is registered only as a trademark.
Yes, it’s true! The ASL is involved in guerilla activism – that is, activism on no budget. The ASL involves a lot of people who work very hard for no money and with no budget to lobby the government and to make the public aware of the fragile state of Australian secularism – particularly in our public schools. If there are expenses involved they pay them out of their own pockets, not from any secular slush fund.
So, if you see this silly rumour being perpetuated, can you please make a correction? The ASL is not funding the High Court Challenge. That would be impossible because the ASL doesn’t have a brass razoo nor a piggy bank in which to store one.
While Brigadier Wallace claims his annual salary from the Australian Christian Lobby, our soldiers of secularism fight their battle for no monetary reward and with no budget. Ironic, isn’t it?
The High Court Challenge is, in fact, being funded by the Williams family who, I’m reliably informed, don’t happen to have a castle in Spain, a winery in the Barossa, a safe full of gold galleons at Gringott’s bank, or even an ailing rich uncle. They’re just a normal, suburban family struggling with finances like the rest of us ordinary folk.
Behind the Williams family are many, many parents, citizens, educators and business people who believe passionately that the National School Chaplaincy Program is an assault on Australian secularism. As such, they’re prepared to put their money where their mouth is to help Ron Williams pay his ever-mounting legal fees. (If you happen to support the case and can contribute a little – or a lot – please visit the High Court Challenge website and make a donation!)
The High Court Challenge vs Wider Concerns
Of course, as I explain in the Online Opinion article, the High Court Challenge won’t stop school chaplaincy and has nothing to do with whether chaplains are good, bad or indifferent. It may, however, succeed in cutting off one source of funding and alert Australians to the fact that nearly half a billion of their hard-earned tax dollars is being doled out to pay largely unqualified religious practitioners to work in schools which need, not chaplains, but trained, secular counsellors.
The High Court Challenge has a very narrow focus and, if successful, a limited effect upon chaplaincy in state schools. It won’t end chaplaincy in state schools and the High Court justices will not be called upon to pass judgment on the activities of the chaplains themselves. It’s important to distinguish between the case and the wider concerns of many of those who support the High Court Challenge.
Just a Couple of Disgruntled Atheists?
And now, to the next misconception that’s being put about – that everyone loves the National School Chaplaincy Programme and the High Court Challenge is simply a malicious attempt by a very small number of disgruntled atheists who want to derail it.
While, obviously, there is only one plaintiff in the High Court Challenge – Ron Williams – he is backed by a large and growing grass-roots movement of Australians who find the government’s entanglement with the Christian right disturbing, outrageous and a serious threat to the secular basis of Australian democracy. Make no mistake! Williams has the support of thousands.
Ministerial Claims About Chaplaincy
Expanding on my Online Opinion article, I’d like to address in more detail some of the claims made in the joint ministerial media statement by (then) Queensland attorney-general, Cameron Dick and (then) education minister, Geoff Wilson.
“Chaplains are only ever adopted into schools after the principal has consulted with the school’s P&C and the school community.”
Rubbish! Scores of emails from outraged parents who were never consulted about having a chaplain at their school and presented with a chaplain as a fait accomplis are on file with the Australian Secular Lobby. I receive many such complaints myself and pass them on to the ASL.
We know for a fact that evangelical churches urge their parishioners to stack – ahem – join their local P&C as a strategy to have the religious view prevail in state schools. Sadly, non-religious parents, far less well-networked, don’t realise their local P&C isn’t just comprised of other parents – it’s a sub-branch of the local happy-clappers.
“These non-discriminatory programmes show respect for everyone, regardless of one’s faith, and provide a valuable service that students really appreciate.”
No, they don’t! The chaplains are overwhelmingly evangelical Christians recruited from fundamentalist churches. A non-religious person can only be employed as a ‘chaplain’ if all avenues to employ someone with a religious affiliation have been exhausted. How is that ‘non-discriminatory’? Indeed, would it be similarly non-discriminatory if some future atheist Prime Minister determined that evangelical Christians could only be employed in a public school if all attempts to employ an atheist had been exhausted?
The very nature of evangelicalism means that chaplains don’t respect other faiths or those without faith. Evangelical chaplains fervently believe they have a mission to ‘save’ those poor deluded souls who don’t believe as they do. If they had any respect for non-Christians and the non-religious, they wouldn’t agree to work in public schools. – they would say:
“If parents what their children to have Christian role models and guidance they can bring their children to our church. Our role is not to inflict ourselves or our faith upon those who don’t seek it, or are not mature enough to make such decisions. Instead, we are here, in the community, for anyone who wishes to seek us out. For the sake of the kids, use the money set aside for the NSCP to employ qualified secular counsellors.”
Just recently, in the Illawarra district, we’ve not only seen kids forced to attend SRE classes against their parents’ wishes, but we discovered the local SRE teachers praying online that this would result in religious conversions. That’s the evangelical mindset. These religious fanatics are on a holy mission and have no boundaries.
“.. school chaplains provide a vital and valuable service within [Queensland] schools.”
What service? They are (officially) not allowed to proselytise nor counsel students. So, what exactly do they do? In fact, what they do is frequently overstep their boundaries. We know that chaplains routinely engage in proselytising to students – students and their parents tell us. In fact, the chaplains told us this themselves in a survey on school chaplaincy:
“In the two weeks prior to the survey,
• 95% of chaplains reported dealing with behaviour management issues, such as anger
• 92% with bullying and harassment
• 92% with peer relationships and loneliness
• 91% with student – family relationship issues
• 85% with sense of purpose and self-esteem
• 81% with grief and loss
• 77% with community involvement and social inclusion
• 76% with spirituality and ‘big picture’ issues of life
• 72% with mental health and depression
• 50% with alcohol and drug use, and
• 44% with self harm and suicide.
If chaplains do manage to control their evangelical urges within the school grounds, they ‘cleverly’ create opportunities to proselytise outside the school gate through after-school activities, school camps, etc. Sure, these activities are ‘optional’ but they’re not marketed to the kids or parents as being ‘religious’ and, even if the parents realised what they were saying ‘yes’ to, it’s hard to tell a child she can’t go to camp or ‘make-up classes’ with her friends.
So, to summarise:
a) The High Court Challenge is being funded by the Williams family, helped by donations from ordinary Australians who are appalled at the half a billion dollars of taxpayers’ dollars committed to a scheme designed to win the votes of Christian conservatives while short-changing kids and schools who are in desperate need of qualified counselors. (See counselor to student ratios by state on this link.)
c) The High Court Challenge is not a frivolous case put by a small group of disgruntled atheists. It is a serious case, involving some of Australia’s top legal minds. The fact that it has been accepted for a hearing in May suggests that the High Court believes Williams’ writ raises some legitimate, if not yet proven, concerns.
d) The defence of chaplaincy being touted by certain government ministers, chaplaincy providers bears no relation to the issues to be argued in the High Court (see my article on Online Opinion). And, further, they should be thankful they’re not relevant as the ASL has ample evidence to prove that many of the claims are simply not true – or, at the very least, unproven.
As the date for the High Court Hearing draws closer, those in support of school chaplaincy and politicians seeking the conservative Christian vote will be doing everything they can to ‘spin’ the truth. Conversely, Williams and his supporters don’t need to ‘spin’ anything. They just want the truth to be heard.
Williams and his team have a strong case and are willing to let it win or lose on its legal merits. It’s a pity the Christians and their supporters don’t share the same respect for the truth, the same faith in our justice system, the same commitment to upholding the Constitution, or the same concern for the psychological welfare of our kids.
I may be an atheist, but I believe there are some things that should be held sacred.
- The psychological welfare of our children – whatever the cost.
- The separation of church and state.
- The secular nature of Australian democracy.
- And the right of every Australian, not only to freedom of religion but freedom from religion.
The National School Chaplaincy Program offends each and every one of these principles.
Politicians who support this travesty of a program should hang their heads in shame.
Win or lose, Williams case will not stop school chaplaincy in Australian public schools. As important as it is, the High Court Challenge only addresses the narrow issue of federal funding for the programme. It’s important to distinguish between the narrow focus of Williams’ case and the wider concerns expressed in this blog post. It seems the only thing that will completely remove this ill-advised programme from our schools is a popular revolt against it. It’s started already and it’s gaining strength. Why don’t you stand up for our kids, secularism, and true freedom of religion and join the campaign against the NSCP.
Disclaimer: Like many others, I have made some small contributions towards Ron Williams’ legal fees but I have no official connection with either the Australian Secular Lobby or with the High Court Challenge. My only interest in this matter is that of a concerned citizen.