January 10, 2012
Australia Revises Controversial Program Paying for Chaplains in Schools
In December 2010, CT explored the interesting news that Australia’s atheist prime minister was defending a controversial federal program that paid for Christian chaplains to work in public schools. Now the Australian government is allowing schools to hire secular welfare workers instead of chaplains with program funds if they so chose.
In 2007, the government began offering schools up to $20,000 annually to provide chaplaincy services to students; secular workers could only be hired if the school could prove no chaplains were available. But a program review last year indicated “strong feedback” to open up the program to qualified secular workers. Today 208 of the 2,512 schools that reapplied for the program plan to hire a secular worker; 68 schools remain undecided, and the vast majority will continue hiring chaplains.
CT reported that newly-elected Prime Minister Julia Gillard, an atheist, promised to extend the program through 2014, calling the program a success. The program is voluntary; chaplains offer "comfort and support to students and staff" as well as "general religious and personal advice,” though they cannot tell students what they themselves believe unless they are asked.
However, the Australian Psychological Society expressed concerns that chaplains without proper psychological training could be counseling troubled students. Additionally, a Queensland parent challenged the program in Australia’s High Court in 2010, arguing that it violates the nation's constitutional ban on state-established religion. The High Court has yet to make a decision.