The Chaplains case
What’s the issue?
The Howard Government began a policy of providing Commonwealth taxpayer funds to enable “chaplains” to provide counselling services to children in schools. This is known as the National Schools Chaplains Program (NSCP). As part of the 2010 Election Campaign, the Gillard Government promised to expand the program by a further $220 million.
Under the program, the “chaplains” are not required to be professionally accredited in providing counselling or psychological services to children. This means that vulnerable children are being potentially exposed to unqualified people are able to use the opportunity to proselytise their own personal religious beliefs rather than provide professional care and support. The program guidelines also require that the funding be directed to chaplains (a religious term in itself) who are affiliated with religious organisations. A school may only engage a secular counsellor when a religious chaplain cannot be found. This is discriminatory and may mean that children in need are denied the best support.
Reason Australia strongly agrees that school children are entitled to care when they encounter difficulties. But the NSCP doesn’t provide professional support and it entirely fails to ensure that children are not exposed to religious views that they may not agree with.
One brave Australian has taken a stand. Ron Williams has challenged the NSCP in the High Court. Reason Australia strongly supports Ron's action. The essence of his argument is that the Commonwealth Government did not have the power under our Constitution either to provide funds under the NSCP or to require that funding recipients have a religious affiliation. If both these matters can be corrected, then there is no reason why the Commonwealth can’t provide funding for professional school counsellors on a secular basis.
Ron's case was heard by the High Court in early August 2011. The Court's decision was reserved and is expected to be published late in 2011. Reason Australia encourages everyone to visit Highcourtchallenge.com to read more about, and continue to support, Ron's efforts, including helping to fund the case which was, by nature, expensive.
The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations closed its consultation on the Chaplaincy program in March 2011 and promises "further changes to come". See the Department's Chaplaincy webpage for further details.