28 June 2011

School chaplains are only to “provide advice”, not “religious instruction”

The Australian government is considering a proposal that chaplains involved in the National School Chaplaincy Program (NSCP) be required to have formal qualifications in youth work or a similar field. School Education Minister Peter Garrett has stated that “whoever’s working in a school environment… should have a level of appropriate training and qualifications,” including NSCP volunteers. The NSCP currently funds “2681 schools across Australia where chaplains or pastoral care workers provide students with ‘general advice, comfort and support’”.

So those who give “general advice, comfort and support” to schoolchildren may soon be required to have proper qualifications. Fair enough. But why do they have to specifically be chaplains?

Mr Garrett has said that the NSCP chaplains are “not there for discipline, they're not there for teaching, they're not there for religious instruction, they're there to provide advice.” So, if chaplains are barred from religious proselytizing, why are religious credentials necessary for the job? A secular youth worker could just as well fulfill the role described by Mr Garrett.

The answer is that religious people are automatically perceived to be virtuous simply by dint of their belief in the existence of invisible, magical beings. It is a result of the common canard that one needs God in order to be good. So by professing a superstitious belief in an authoritarian sky fairy, chaplains somehow acquire moral qualities that unbelievers apparently lack. Why else would people without professional training but who subscribe to irrational nonsense be chosen as school counselors, to minister to the emotional needs and ethical problems of children?

Mr Garrett may be confident that chaplains serve a role that is “free of any religious instruction”. Yet the scandal involving one chaplain provider, Access Ministries, clearly shows that evangelical Christians cannot be trusted to refrain from selling their brand of sky fairyism to school kids. It’s incredibly naïve of people like Mr Garrett to expect devout Christian chaplains not to ‘share the gospel’ with their young charges. In fact, many consider it their moral duty to ‘win disciples’ for their faith.

While it would be good to require all school workers, religious and secular, to be properly trained, the presumption of religious workers’ upstanding moral character is undeserved. On the contrary, religious counselors can act in despicable ways towards the very children they’re supposed to care for and protect.


HT: Russell Blackford and Martin

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