Commonwealth funded religious chaplains in Australian public schools

 

From 2015, in order to circumvent two High Court of Australia constitutional decisions, the federal government commenced supplying $60M p/a to all states and territories to place and administer chaplains in Australian public and private schools. The funding was, and remains strictly conditional upon every chaplain being religious, or as it is stated within the “Project Agreement for the National School Chaplaincy Programme” contract signed in late 2014 by the education ministers of every Australian state and territory:

“A chaplain is an individual who is recognised through formal ordination, commissioning, recognised religious qualifications or endorsement by a recognised or accepted religious institution”

The National School Chaplaincy Program is now operating without any form of central guidelines, code of conduct or complaints process. NSCP funded chaplains are employed almost entirely by evangelical parachurch organisations including Scripture Union Queensland (QLD, ACT and TAS), ACCESS ministries (VIC), Schools Ministry Group (SA) and YouthCARE (WA). Subject to a new arrangement introduced for 2016, NSCP chaplains in NSW are employed by various organisations, although predominantly by Generate Ministries and the Hillsong church linked Your Dream ministry.

Unfettered by statute, enforceable constraints or any disciplinary procedures whatsoever, the National School Chaplaincy Program continues as a Trojan Horse which releases upon national public school campuses Bible clubs and evangelical activities such as SUPA clubs (Scripture Union Primary Age), JAFFA clubs (Jesus A Friend For All) and gendered programs including the ubiquitous Hillsong church SHINE program for girls.

Throughout 2015 through to the 2017 school year we have continued to regularly receive numerous complaints from across Australia related to Commonwealth funded chaplains evangelising and proselytising on public school campuses via programs and activities described above and other methods which include visiting evangelical speakers and bands, while recruiting students to attend Christian camps and church youth activities via school newsletters.

Many complaints have been received regarding chaplains being employed or reinstated with grossly inadequate school community consultation—or apparently no consultation whatsoever. Unfortunately, the NSCP project agreement contract provides no requirements or obligations for any consultation processes prior to the employment of a chaplain—leaving these matters entirely at the discretion of individual state and territory signatories. It would seem that the chaplain employment and re-employment process continues to largely be undertaken in a covert manner across Australia.

Operating as a national program without any form of central code of conduct, guidelines, complaints, or disciplinary processes, parents and caregivers with grievances regarding the NSCP are placed in a most frustrating and distressing position. We would suggest that all complaints regarding the National School Chaplaincy Program as it operates in each state and territory be directed to us via email, our contact form, or by phone should the matter be urgent.