Senator Louise Pratt on School Chaplaincy

Yesterday, Senator Louise Pratt gave a Senate speech calling for an end to the National School Chaplaincy Program.  Senator Pratt drew on information I supplied to LGBTIQ lobby, Allout, and from information which emerged from Allout’s survey about chaplaincy. Here is the text from Hansard.

The High Court’s decision will be handed down tomorrow, Thursday, 19 June at 10am. Ron Williams and I will be in Sydney for the decision.

It remains to be seen how the government will respond to a positive decision for Williams. But it is likely that pressure will need to be placed upon the states not to accept funding for the continuation of this fatally flawed and increasingly politically damaging program. Reason Road has a good run down on the problem and suggestions for ways to campaign against chaplaincy.


Chrys Stevenson




Senator-Louise-Pratt-Labor-AustraliaSenator PRATT (Western Australia) (19:29): I rise this evening to share my concerns in this place about the coalition School Chaplaincy Program. There is in our country a mounting and substantial evidence base that young people, especially young lesbian, gay, bisexual or other gender non-conforming people, are being discriminated against by many school chaplains provided through the national school chaplaincy program. I have worked with school chaplains over the years and I have found them to be well-intentioned people. But I also know about the very real suffering that the anti-gay beliefs that some of them hold can cause LGBT young people, even when no harm is intended.

As we know, LGBT young people are at an extremely disproportionate risk of self-harm, suicide and general feelings of shame and depression compared to non-LGBT youth. These feelings are generated not because there is any wrong with their identity but because of the stigma directed towards them by others. And so, while many young people may have positive chaplain experiences ourselves, we in this place have to listen to what young people tell us, especially our most vulnerable youth.

Last week, the LGBT rights organisation All Out ran a survey inviting Australians to share their stories of school chaplains. Over 2,200 people responded, including over 1,000 high-school students aged 13 to 18. Many of these students came from WA and 15 per cent identified as L, G, B or T. The Australian community has been debating school chaplains for some time, but this is the first time that we have heard from the students themselves, and the stories that they have shared are overwhelming. We have heard dozens of firsthand student accounts that describe chaplains as being explicitly anti-gay. Here is one short excerpt:

My best friend was getting bullied by other students last year for being gay, so went to speak to our school chaplain about it. … He suffers from anxiety and depression, has attempted suicide in the past and occasionally self-harms. He spoke to our chaplain about being bullied and about how he has begun to believe what people are saying about him being a ‘fag’ and ‘a disgusting, gay idiot’. … The chaplain told him that his bullies were right and that homosexuality is a degrading sin that sends people to hell. …. That night I got a phone call from his Mum telling me he had tried to overdose on medicine pills and was in hospital having his stomach pumped.

And here is another:

… this term the Chaplain warned us against … non-marital sex. When I asked him about what a lesbian couple of faith would do if they couldn’t get married, he simply replied that gay and lesbian people could never be proper Christians. … He went on to talk about how … gays and lesbians were … unnatural, indecent and perverse. … this event made me feel as if my sexuality was something to be ashamed of. I consider myself a strong person, and for this to affect me so deeply made me realise the dangers of mixing religion with public education.

It is important to mention that a minority of students—about five to 10 per cent of students in this survey—reported positive experiences with chaplains, including stories of chaplains helping them to overcome self-esteem issues and bullying. Of the 1,000 or so parents and other adults who were part of the survey, about 25 per cent reported positive chaplain experiences, including how chaplains had boosted confidence. However, most of the stories were negative, and almost all of the stories from LGBT young people were negative. As well as the two stories I have just quoted, students described chaplains helping them to ‘pray the gay away’ and advising them to sleep with a member of the opposite sex to ‘correct’ their same sex attraction. One very serious story involved a student being told by a chaplain that they should leave home because they had homosexual parents. The family felt unwelcome at the school and subsequently moved. Many non-Christian students also reported that chaplains had harassed them about adopting religion.

In my years as a senator I have heard countless stories of the challenges that LGBT young people face at school, but even I am overwhelmed by some of the heartbreaking stories that this survey revealed—all breaches of program guidelines and the duty of care owed to these students, a duty of care that these stories demonstrate is being breached, a duty of care that states these services must not be biased on the grounds of religious ideology or sexuality. Extraordinarily, the government has refused to give any assurances that even the current program’s standards and safeguards will be maintained—and this could lead to the rules designed to prevent this kind of proselytising being wound back even further

And this is not even the whole picture. I have also had a few very serious reports passed on to me this week, again stories reported by Western Australian school students who are especially vulnerable because of their sexual orientations. These stories describe chaplains committing serious criminal offences against them. Needless to say, these stories will be further investigated and the children will be connected to the appropriate police and support services, where this has not already happened. But obviously we are dealing with a system that is broken and not working, a system that is failing our most vulnerable youth.

I know some great chaplains. They work with love and authenticity, doing wonderful things for our young people. But on a national level we must face the fact that our chaplaincy program is failing Australian young people. We know this because of a steady accumulation of media investigations revealing everything from the distribution of homophobic ‘biblezines’ in our schools to continuous proselytizing to students, against their parents wishes. We know it because of the findings of the Northern Territory Ombudsman in 2009 and similar findings in 2011 by the Federal Ombudsman. We know it because of the damning reviews of this program by academic experts such as Professor Marion Maddox.

It is extraordinary to me that, in the face of such issues, qualified non-religious youth workers are being pushed out of this program in favour of chaplains. A choice between a chaplain or a youth worker is actually being taken away from schools—schools will now only be able to choose a chaplain. It is extraordinary that a government that has promoted choice and autonomy for our schools is forcing chaplains over youth workers on those schools.

I would also like to highlight that questions have begun to surface about links between Australia’s three biggest school chaplain providers—Access Ministries, Scripture Union Queensland and GenR8 Ministries—and extreme anti-gay movements such as the Lausanne evangelical conference. This conference is well known for its links to anti-gay movements that promote anti-homosexuality laws in African countries—places like Uganda and Nigeria, where we have seen extreme anti-gay laws put forward promoting things like imprisonment and the death penalty.

This week, the High Court will hand down its decision on whether the National Schools Chaplaincy Program is unconstitutional, and I hope that the court will find that the Constitution does indeed prevent the federal government from handing over money to religious providers to put untrained chaplains in our schools—chaplains who, however well intended, are in many cases harming our children.

Regardless of the outcome, it is important to me to see this program stopped. Any person giving counselling to our young people should have the proper qualifications, as recognised by organisations like the Psychological Association, and should not hold discriminatory views. Our young people have told us very clearly that they do not feel safe at school, and it is our job to listen to them and to respond. (Time expired)

9 thoughts on “Senator Louise Pratt on School Chaplaincy

  1. Paul

    Chaplaincy must go. Regardless of whether the funding is legal or not.
    If it is found illegal the churches might just fund it themselves anyway. It is such a valuable program for them. A way for them to save souls, their ‘raison d’etre’. We must stop this. It is harming all kids, not just LGBT kids. So many don’t care about this because it is predominantly ‘christian’ and thus benign. Imagine the reaction if it was predominantly muslim proselytising. So many Australians have a ‘christian background’ and think it is all about love, they don’t understand it is all about SIN!
    They don’t understand that for a chaplain the very best thing he/she can do for you is to save your soul.

    1. Vance

      I agree, Paul. People only need to take a look at Scripture Union’s official ‘Statement of Belief’. The sin and salvation ideology is all-pervasive. The idea that children are “members of a fallen race” is not loving or compassionate. It’s delusional and manipulative.

      1. Annette

        Of course the “fallen race” idea is based on Adam’s sin, so the doctrine needs the idea of a “first man”. This is incompatible with evolution, which has no first man. Therefore Scripture Union chaplains at least would be obliged to promote creationism or so-called intelligent design if the subject came up in a private interaction with a child. This would indeed be child abuse, as evolution is established. The dangers of this pathetic system are manifold.

  2. Robster

    Expect lots of overt lies, screams of oppression, discrimination and other nonsense from the Xian lobby should they lose this case. These people are unable to tell the truth and are desperate as religious belief and church attendance dwindle, especially amongst younger people. They need and openly admit (when pushed) that if they don’t indoctrinate the kids before age 14, they won’t get them and another generation of potential victims will fall away to live rational, thoughtful lives unencumbered with stone-age superstitious nonsense.

  3. Annette

    Wonderful job of research, and a wonderful speech. A thousand thanks to Sen. Pratt, and to you Chrys for bringing it to us. In the light of these testimonies, I can’t see why any state government would want to touch it, but I’ll be lobbying my local state member not to, and to be wary of the liars (whatever happened to “Thou shalt not bear false witness…”), and hope many do likewise.

  4. dandare2050

    The program must be stopped, not “fixed”. The rules are set up to block complaints and misdirect. They are not enforced. The “secular youth workers” patch merely resulted in the same people calling themselves that instead of chaplain.

    The rules are not enforced on monitored. The definition of prosletysing was chosen very narrowly to allow the chaplains to push their religious beliefs and draw children with “wrong” beliefs into their religious grooming system.

    There is no acceptable secular need being fulfilled by these chaplains that could not be fulfilled by someone who is professionally trained. The whole thing is to acheive the aims of certain sectarian desires to force conformity on the yound.

    We have seen that this is true from the pronnouncements of those directing the program from the employing agencies. Here is one such example:

  5. Pingback: Chaplaincy – What next? A word from the government | Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear

  6. Pingback: 15 LGBTI Priorities for ALP National Conference 2015 | alastairlawrie

Leave a Reply to Annette Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s