The Circus that is National School Chaplaincy

I have a new article up today on The Big Smoke. It’s called:

Send in the Clowns: Guidelines won’t stop school chaplains proselytising

The article is a response to an earlier article :

Chaplaincy: It’s not all God’s work

in which, law student, Rach Mason makes the following claims:

“[Williams’] original High Court challenge failed to address state and church separation on technical grounds. This time, Williams is challenging the legislation used to fund chaplaincy.”

Actually, Williams’ High Court challenge didn’t address state and church separation because Australia has no constitutional state and church separation. Ms Mason would do well to read the Defence of Government Schools Case (1981). Williams challenged the (lack of) legislation used to fund chaplaincy as his primary argument in both cases – as Ms Mason would have known had she bothered to read the submissions and transcripts before writing about it.

“… chaplaincy is justified on its own merits”

I’d like to see the evidence for that. Where is the research? No hyperlink graces the assertion, sadly.sad clown

According to Rach Mason – chaplains don’t counsel and don’t proselytise, because those activities are prohibited in the guidelines. The first assertion is addressed in my response to Ms Mason’s article. The second, regarding counselling, was answered by the Commonwealth Solicitor-General and Scripture Union’s QC who argued movingly in the High Court that grief counselling by chaplains was one of the major benefits chaplains offered to students. Oops! It was a tad embarrassing when one of the High Court justices pointed out that counselling was not allowed under the guidelines.

Something that didn’t make it into the Big Smoke article and added here as an extra bonus for my readers is the fact that ‘proselytising’ is rather narrowly defined in the guidelines – intentionally to provide maximum freedom to the evangelicals, we suspect. I spoke to Hugh Wilson, vice-president of the Australian Secular Lobby about the ‘p’ word (proselytising) in respect to chaplaincy. Here’s his response:

“”During the discussions with DETE on the chaplaincy policy review the ASL-HSQ [Australian Secular Lobby-Humanist Society of Queensland]  team tabled a list of many, perhaps 30 or so, precise definitions of the P word taken from a wide range of dictionary sources readily available to anyone able to use Google or a basic book library system.

“The one used by both the Commonwealth and DETE has been carefully selected to exclude that vast bulk of the meaning, quite deliberately we believe, to facilitate P-ing in schools without having a clear, precise and relevant, not to mention comprehensive, definition as the ‘reasonable person in the street’ might understand it to mean.

“While we were discussing this we also highighted the rather ‘light-on’ definition of E-ing [evangalising] too.

“In relation to the P word, DETE staff said they agreed with us but that ‘they [their political masters? the DG [Director-General]? the old REAC [Religion Education Advisory Committee] crew?] would not accept a proper definition”, which rather says it all in my mind.”

I felt the proselytising claim needed my full attention, so that’s what I’ve focused on in my response on The Big Smoke. But my regular readers will know that I could have spent several thousand words refuting Ms Mason’s well-meaning but misinformed views on the Williams case, chaplaincy, and church-state separation.  Perhaps you may wish to set her straight in the comments to either my article or hers. Politely, of course.

Chrys Stevenson



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