Ian Robinson, President of the Rationalist Society of Australia, has strongly criticised the Australian Government’s plan to fund chaplains in public schools.
‘This is another nail in the coffin of a viable free, compulsory and secular education system in Australia,’ he said. ‘The PM’s justification for this use of tax-payers money to subsidise superstition is that the schools need the “values” that the chaplains can provide,’ he said.
‘While telling our students they need ‘Christian’ values, it seems Mr Howard is impervious to them himself. The PM has summarily dismissed the Church’s value-based advice on such matters as the treatment of refugees. On aboriginal land rights. On poverty. On industrial relations. On the Iraq war.
‘However, the point is that Australians in general, if not the Prime Minister, get most of their important social values not from Christianity but from the Enlightenment tradition, from which emerged the values of freedom of speech, tolerance, universal education, scientific method, freedom from dogma, separation of church and state, and of course the big three – liberté, egalité , fraternité.
‘The Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition on the other hand has bequeathed us exceptionalism and intolerance of others, and in the past has given significant support to slavery, colonialism, the subjugation of women and unjust right-wing and fascist dictators and oligarchies. A recent study by Gregory Paul concluded that amongst the developed countries, the pro-religious democracies consistently endured higher rates of societal dysfunction than the pro-secular ones: “In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD [sexually transmitted disease] infection rates, teen pregnancy, and abortion”.
‘Do we really want chaplains to be teaching their values to our children?
‘Supporters claim that chaplains will mainly provide ‘mentoring and personal development, counselling and crisis management’, and of course ‘values-based guidance’. If this is the lack that the appointment of chaplains is suppose to alleviate, it would appear that what we really need are not chaplains, but school social workers and psychologists, school nurses, and a mandatory course in ethics, values and comparative religion. There is no guarantee that a chaplain, however well-intentioned, will have all the skills needed for these diverse roles.
‘The government should take the $90 million allotted to the chaplaincy program and devote it to introducing a course on ethics, values and comparative religion in all secondary schools. This course could teach Australian values such as such as fairness, egalitarianism, mateship, and concern for the under-dog, and family values such as unselfishness, compassion, tolerance, acceptance of difference, sharing of possessions, support for one another and everybody contributing to the common good according to their ability. Such a course would allow students to make informed ethical decisions about their own behaviour and their spiritual beliefs.
‘To invoke the government’s own mantra, our children must be given that choice.’
The Australian Government’s plan has also drawn fire from politicians. The Prime Minister’s announcement is a dangerous move aimed at undermining the secular quality of the nation, according to the Australian Democrats.
“The beneficiaries of this taxpayer gift will be the pentecostal, evangelical and fundamentalist churches” said Sandra Kanck, State Democrats Leader.
“The Prime Minister is deliberately and consciously confusing the boundaries between church and state and encouraging others to do so.
“It is a way of pushing a conservative agenda, and for the Federal Government to interfere in our State education systems.
“If there is money to spare, it would be far better spent on providing more properly trained counsellors for our schools.
“This is a disturbing move that must be fought. Government schools must remain secular.
“Our schools must first and foremost be about education, not faith.”