Christian Chaplains in Queensland State Schools

Hon. Rod Welford

Minister for Education and the Arts.
Dear Minister,

Thank you for your letter dated 5th September 05 regarding Chaplaincy programs in Queensland State Schools.

It is pointless, other than an exercise in robotics, in making reference to obsolete, impracticable and non-policeable policies, in lieu of answering pertinent questions relating to Chaplaincy programs.

If Chaplaincy programs in State Schools were not riddled with such inconsistency and bias advantageously affecting proselytising Christian Fundamentalist evangelism, answers from your department would be straightforward and enlightening. It is more than disappointing they have not been.

The AFA is willing to wait for conclusions of the ‘review of the Chaplaincy Services in Queensland State Schools in conjunction with the review of the laws relating to religious instruction’.

However, because of the unworkable system that has allowed for the existence of the present dismal situation, the AFA has no confidence that radical and necessary change will be an outcome.

On receiving the results of the review, they will be examined with their efficacy judged, by the questions we will then pose, receiving full and honest answers. This has not been a strong point of your department under the old system.

Minister, with all due respect, well might you state in you final comment; “Thank you again for your interest in the welfare of the students in Queensland state schools.” Your government has bowed willingly to religious pressure groups, whose only mission in life is to gain converts to a particular fantasy. They understand public apathy aids their cause. The Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc is proud to add its name to the list of organisations and individuals who have actual interest in the mental welfare of students and the democracy they will one day manage.

The Constitution for the Commonwealth states: 116. The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.

The question therefore has to be asked: Why have state governments taken it on themselves to override the intent behind the Constitution to promote Christian religion, and in the case of Chaplaincy, a divisive, backward thinking Fundamentalism, in State Schools.

Yours Sincerely,

David Nicholls
President
Atheist Foundation of Australia

Copies to:
Premier Peter Beattie
Robert Messenger Shadow Minister
Queensland Greens
Scripture Union Queensland
Various parties interested in the Chaplaincy program

All letters on this subject can be viewed on the Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc Web Site.
http://www.atheistfoundation.org.au/subqld.htm
05 SEPT 2005
Mr David Nicholls
President
Atheist Foundation of Australia

Dear Mr Nicholls

Thank you for your follow up letter received on 9 August 2005 regarding your concerns with chaplaincy services in schools. The Honourable the Premier has also referred your letter received on 17 August 2005.

I recognise that you have additional issues you wish the Department to consider.

Previous correspondence forwarded to you conveyed information on the current practices required by Education Queensland when chaplaincy services function in a Queensland state school and when religious instruction is delivered. Your thoughts on the information provided have been noted.

A review of the Chaplaincy Services in Queensland State Schools policy is being undertaken in conjunction with the review of the laws relating to religious instruction, which was referred to in previous correspondence. Significant stakeholder groups from a range of religious groups and other organisations are contributing to this review. I will ensure the views outlined in your correspondence are considered as part of this review process.

If you wish to discuss this further, I invite you to contact Ms Maureen McNamara, Senior Education Officer on telephone (07)3237 9915.

Thank you again for your interest in the welfare of students in Queensland state schools.

Yours sincerely
Rod Welford MP
Ref: 05/79500

12 AUG 2005

Dear Mr Nicholls

Thank you for your letter of 2 August 2005 to the Minister for Education and Minister for the Arts, the Honourable Rod Welford MP, concerning the Chaplaincy program.

The contents of your letter have been noted and a response is currently being prepared.

Once this response is finalised, it will be forwarded to you.

Yours sincerely
Paul Bini
Senior Policy Adviser

Ref: 05/77867

2nd August 2005

Hon. Ms Anna Bligh
Minister for Education and the Arts.

Dear Minister,
Thank you for the letter dated 5th July 05 from, Murray Watt Senior Policy Adviser. Unfortunately, it brought to light far more questions than it answered.

It was disappointing Mr Watt considered the following to be a satisfactory explanation to our clearly expressed reservations; “The program operates according to the policy and procedures outlined in the Department of Education Manual:” Pure ‘Nuremburg’ defence.

The ‘Nuremburg’ defence of only following existing Government policy (Orders) is not at all good enough in sidestepping the rationale for continuing with the Christian Chaplaincy program. My statement, “The promotion of a particularly narrow religious view afforded by fundamentalist Christian Chaplains in a multicultural and multi-denominational society is unacceptable.” an extremely important and pertinent point, elicited no other comment.

The Nuremburg defence also covered a further statement of mine. “Education is about giving factual information to children, in preparation for being productive and happy adults. Chaplains promote a one-sided contorted picture of reality that works against this goal, especially in the matters of science and the formulation of healthy and non-divisive social attitudes.”

It is common knowledge to educated persons that Evangelical Christianity is infiltrating the public school system Australia wide. The response by Mr Watt;”Chaplaincy Services in Queensland state schools occur as a community initiative in those schools which identify a need and elect to have the program.”, is very illusory. Public apathy, people not aware, nor having the time or knowledge to care about school initiatives, creates perfect circumstances for pressure groups, in this case Evangelical Christians, to infiltrate and dominate. Using the phrase “community initiative” is double-speak at its best.

Even if Chaplaincy programs were to result from genuine “community initiative”, it is not the duty of governments to accommodate ‘faiths’ of any description. The ‘opt out’ policy and the over represented specific ‘faith’ input demonstrate a will by government to place children in its care in a position of potential indoctrination by one section of the Christian religion. It is obvious to students, that their schools promote one particular religion over others and no religion. This is scandalous.

It appears the Chaplaincy program is a cheap alternative to hiring properly trained counsellors. Utilising inappropriately trained personnel with high religious motivation, is saving money at the detrimental expense of young worldview forming minds. Instances where a Chaplain or indeed the average untrained mature adult can be of assistance to students in a non-religious manner cannot be construed as a template recipe for all or even most situations.

Because Evangelical/Fundamentalist Christianity is capable of supplying enough proselytizers beyond numbers of other ‘faiths’ or no-‘faith’, is very poor reason indeed in allowing a mass presence in State schools.

It is not the intention to apply critical evaluation of the answers, by Mr Watt, to all nine questions the AFA asked, but to concentrate on the more obvious flaws.

The question re taxpayer input was prefixed with ‘Generally’ and included, ‘also’. Leaving that aside, doesn’t the government wonder why “religious societies and denominations” monetarily support Chaplains? Has the obvious answer, ‘To gain converts.’ somehow been missed?

“(4) Are Chaplains obliged to ‘believe’ in a fundamentalist view of Christianity?” The question was sidestepped, but was an admission that the government does not know or does not wish to know.
(5) What is the controlling mechanism preventing chaplains proselytising their religious point of view in school hours? The answer highlights that a Catholic, Anglican or Baptist student is obliged to attend a fundamentalist Chaplain’s class as they come under the heading Christian. Maybe the government is unaware of the enormous differences in theology of those three ‘faiths’. How better to have a captive audience capable of manipulation into the fundamentalist mould. Children of nominally Christian parents, a large proportion of society, more than elsewhere in their lives, experience exposure to specific religious induction. The actual question therefore was left unanswered.

As a reality-check, here is part of a letter from the ex VPHS student mentioned previously. It expresses concerns, the reasons for asking questions (4), (5) and (6) which as of yet, have not been adequately answered.

“Hey
It is the ex student from Victoria Point High here again. Just an update on the situation because I saw your piece on the website. I was recently informed that he is distributing Jack Chick style pamphlets to students (particularly worrying is he was distributing a pamphlet on the biblical story of Sodom, i.e. the whole anti-homosexual thing I imagine was implied). On a previous occasion he distributed to someone, I know, an Exorcist comic. I think this well shows his levels of fundamentalism as he will often get preaching information off the internet and it will all be laughable fundamentalist arguments such as the atheist test, or this jack chick stuff. Also, I hear he is quite low on funds now and is running a fundraising campaign within the school. He not only witnesses to people on parade, he is commonly invited to many functions (i.e. school camps, excursions, etc) and he walks around the school at lunchtime introducing himself and talking to people about god among many other things.

I do know people inside the school, which is currently where I am getting my information. But i would like to keep them anonymous to protect them.

http://www.chick.com/ – Jack Chick Publications
http://www.chick.com/reading/tracts/0273/0273_01.asp – Tract on Sodom
http://www.chick.com/catalog/comics/0104.asp – Comic on exorcism
http://www.ecclesia.org/truth/atheist.html- The atheist test

Thankyou
Yes, I understand the need for concrete information and if it is needed, I am willing to go public.”

If the government is really interested in seeing what it has unleashed in its schools with the chaplaincy program, I suggest all persons responsible for the welfare of children, read at least the ‘Tract on Sodom’.
(6) What is the controlling mechanism preventing Chaplains recruiting children for extra curricula activities that may reflect or lead to a particular monotheistic point of view? The ex student’s letter and commonsense tell a story reasonable people would accept over un-policeable official policy described in the answer by Mr Watt.
(8) Is involvement with any religious aspects of the Chaplaincy a mandatory obligation for students? The answer by Mr Watt did not mention the ‘opt’ out option.
(9) Do students have to opt in or opt out of the religious aspect of the Chaplaincy? This answers the question but did not explain that the various sects of Christianity are all obliged to attend Chaplaincy classes.

I have contacted Mr John Corbett, Principal, Victoria Point State High School by phone and informed him of some AFA reservations. It was a cordial conversation of some length.

Minister, the letter by Mr Watt was less than straightforward and I implore you to examine the Chaplaincy program in detail. Children are the future of society and there is no more an important task than preparing them for mature thinking adulthood. The responsibility Education Ministers have over their lives cannot be greater in any other part of government. The Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc can see no valid reason for continuing this poorly thought out program. It is open to abuse and its premise is not consistent with providing factual knowledge to developing minds.

At the very least, even though nowhere near sufficient a solution, ‘opting in’ to all Chaplaincy exposure must be implemented immediately.

Lastly, a real danger exists with evangelical/fundamentalist Christians ensconcing themselves in positions of power within the Education system. Decisions in need of rational thought superseded instead, by favour to strong religious ‘conscience’, are well capable of usurping democratic process. In such instances, difficulties in shutting the gate may prove not only troublesome, but also impossible. Has this scenario eventuated already?

The AFA is deeply disturbed by the existence of the Chaplaincy programs in Queensland and Australian State schools in general as well as the protection afforded it by evasion, denial and obfuscation.

A forthright reply is expected.

Yours Sincerely,
David Nicholls
President
Atheist Foundation of Australia
Copies to:
Premier Peter Beattie
Robert Messenger Shadow Minister
Queensland Greens
Scripture Union Queensland
Various parties interested in the Chaplaincy program

5th July 05
David Nicholls
President
Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc
Private Mail Bag 6
MAITLAND SA 5573

Dear Mr Nicholls
Thank you for your email received on 3 May 2005 and your letter received on 6 May 2005 concerning chaplaincy services as provided at Victoria Point State High School and in Queensland state schools in general. The Minister for Education and Minister for the Arts, Anna Bligh MP, has asked me to respond to you on her behalf. I sincerely apologise for the delay in replying to you.

Chaplaincy Services in Queensland state schools occur as a community initiative in those schools which identify a need and elect to have the program. The program operates according to the policy and procedures outlined in the Department of Education Manual: SM-03 Chaplaincy Services in Queensland State Schools. I have enclosed a copy of this policy for your perusal.

“http://education.qld.gov.au/corporate/doem/studeman/sm-03000/sections/procedur.html” and “http://education.qld.gov.au/corporate/doem/studeman/sm-03000/sm-03000.html”

As you have raised a number of issues I will address each question separately.

(1) Is the situation at the Victoria Point State High School (VPSHS), as reported by a student correct?

This year Victoria Point State High School held their Anzac Day ceremony on 22 April. I am advised that a number of students did not attend the ceremony as their parents had requested their non-participation on religious or conscientious objection grounds. These students were supervised in the library for the duration of the ceremony.

At Victoria Point State High School, assemblies are held once a fortnight with the agenda determined by student leaders in conjunction with the Principal. The chaplain has addressed regular whole school assemblies on two occasions since July 2004.

(2) Is the situation at VPSHS reminiscent of all, some or a few state schools?

Each chaplaincy service at a Queensland State School is developed through a local chaplaincy committee in consultation with the total school community including administrators, teachers, parents and local religious groups. Therefore, they will differ in the services and the activities the chaplain will provide.

Policy requires that, ‘Chaplaincy services must reflect local circumstances, respond to local needs and be consistent with Education Queensland policy and procedures.’

(3) Is the Chaplaincy program funded by the taxpayer, directly or through payment to a controlling religious body?

The Chaplaincy Services in State Schools: Guidelines state, ‘Generally, the financial resources needed to support such services also come from outside the school, with the participating religious societies and denominations making the major financial contributions. However, other community groups, the school and the school’s Parents and Citizens Association may also make significant contributions to the establishment and maintenance of the service.’

(4) Are Chaplains obliged to ‘believe’ in a fundamentalist view of Christianity?

Chaplains are the staff of an employing authority, which is accredited for the purpose by the Minister for Education. The employing authority has responsibility for the employment conditions and payment of the chaplain’s salary. Each accredited authority has its own ethos and determines the criteria by which they employ their staff.

(5) What is the controlling mechanism preventing chaplains proselytising their religious point of view in school hours?

Religious instruction occurs in state schools in accordance with Section 26 of the Education (General Provisions) Act 1989. Legislation requires that students only attend religious instruction classes if they are members of the religious group/s providing the instruction or have parental approval to attend. This is clearly stated in point 2.2 of the chaplaincy services policy.

(6) What is the controlling mechanism preventing Chaplains recruiting children for extra curricula activities that may reflect or lead to a particular monotheistic point of view?

The local chaplaincy committee determines the major areas of responsibility and activity for the chaplain within the school. These activities require the approval of the school principal and extra curricula activities would generally require parental permission for students to attend.

(7) Are other ‘faiths’ or no-faith programs allowable by Education rules? If not, why not and who makes the rules considering we do live in a multicultural and multi-denominational country?

Faith programs can be delivered by religious groups from within the Christian and non-Christian traditions. The requirement of legislation pertaining to religious instruction is that the religious group must have members in attendance at the school in order to deliver a ‘faith’ program.

It is also a requirement of legislation that the principal of the school arranges alternative activities for students who do not attend religious instruction.

(8) Is involvement with any religious aspects of the Chaplaincy a mandatory obligation for students?

Point 2.11 of policy states:

‘Schools offering chaplaincy services should advise parents and students of:
(a) the various chaplaincy services available in the school
(b) arrangements for accessing chaplaincy services and
(c) their right not to participate.’

Following your query, parents at Victoria Point State High school will be reminded that they are able to notify the Principal confidentially if they do not wish their child to be involved in activities led by the chaplain.

(9) Do students have to opt in or opt out of the religious aspect of the Chaplaincy?

If a chaplain is providing religious instruction he/she would do so in accordance with legislation for religious instruction in school hours. This legislation requires that students who are members of the religious groups delivering the program would attend instruction unless they opt out at the request of a parent. Students who are non-members can attend if parents request in writing that their child opt in.

A chaplain may be involved as a support person in a school activity or educational program, which may have some religious content. Parents are advised when these programs or activities occur so they have the opportunity to request exemption for their child if they wish.

The Government recently canvassed community opinion regarding this issue. Please refer to the enclosed consultation paper titled Education Laws for the Future which was circulated and discussed at a range of forums throughout the State. One issue canvassed in the consultation paper was whether bodies such as the Humanist Society should be permitted to deliver classes to students in the time set aside for religious education classes. The feedback from this paper is currently being collated and will assist future decision-making.

I invite you to contact Mr John Corbett, Principal, Victoria Point State High School on telephone (07) 3820 5888, should you wish to obtain further information in regard to this matter.

Thank you again for your interest in Chaplaincy Services and the welfare of students attending Queensland state schools.

Yours sincerely
Murray Watt
Senior Policy Adviser

Please quote: MCU

30 May 2005

Mr D Nicholls
President (National)
Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc
Private Mail Bag 6
MAITLAND SA 5573

Dear Mr Nicholls
Thank you for forwarding the Premier a copy of your letter of 3 May 2005 addressed to the Honourable Anna Bligh MP, Minister for Education and the Arts concerning the access Christian Chaplains have to children in Queensland State schools, in particular, the Victoria Point State High School. I have been requested to reply to you on the Premiers behalf.

The contents of your letter have been noted.

Please be assured that Ms Bligh will give your correspondence her full consideration.

Again, thank you for bringing this matter to the Premier’s attention.

Yours sincerely
Rob Whiddon
Chief of Staff

10 May 2005

Mr David Nicholls
Atheist Foundation of Australia
Private Mail Bag 6
MAITLAND SA 5573

Dear Mr Nicholls
Thank you for your email of 3 May 2005 to the Minister for Education and Minister for the Arts, Anna Bligh MP, concerning the access Christian Chaplains have to State School students and the issue of prayers at Victoria Point State High School Anzac Day parade.

The contents of your letter have been noted and a response is currently being prepared.

Once this response is finalised, it will be forwarded to you.

Yours sincerely
Michelle McJannett
Office Manager
Office of the Minister for Education and Minister for the Arts
QUEENSLAND
Ref: 05/42230

3 May 05

Hon. Ms Anna Bligh
Minister for Education and the Arts.

Dear Minister,
I write to you regarding the access Christian Chaplains have to children in Queensland State schools and in particular to Victoria Point State High School.

We have received correspondence from an ex-student of VPSHS expressing concerns about the obligatory nature of religious involvement. The complaints concern prayers at a school Anzac Day parade and the recruitment drive at the fortnightly Assembly.

Students wishing exemption because of the religious content in the Anzac Day Parade were obliged to attend.

At the fortnightly Assembly, the Chaplain promoted extra curriculum activities. This has the hallmark of directing children towards a particular religious worldview.

Their have been a growing number of complaints of this nature from both parents and students. The AFA is disturbed that State education appears to be encouraging a breakdown in the ethos of keeping Church and State separate identities. The promotion of a particularly narrow religious view afforded by fundamentalist Christian Chaplains in a multicultural and multi-denominational society is unacceptable.

Education is about giving factual information to children, in preparation for being productive and happy adults. Chaplains promote a one-sided contorted picture of reality that works against this goal, especially in the matters of science and the formulation of healthy and non-divisive social attitudes.

It is our understanding that Chaplains have to ‘believe’ in a specifically religious fundamentalist interpretation of Christianity to obtain their position. Children have very pliable minds and can be influenced and manipulated by people seen as the adult authority, we therefore request the following information:

(1) Is the situation at the Victoria Point State High School, as reported by a student, correct?
(2) Is the situation at the VPSHS reminiscent of all, some or a few State Schools?
(3) Is the Chaplaincy program funded by the taxpayer, directly or through payment to a controlling religious body?
(4) Are Chaplains obliged to ‘believe’ in a fundamentalist view of Christianity?
(5) What is the controlling mechanism preventing Chaplains proselytising their religious point of view in school hours?
(6) What is the controlling mechanism preventing Chaplains recruiting children for extra curriculum activities that may reflect or lead to a particular monotheistic point of view?
(7) Are other ‘faiths’ or no-faith programs allowable by Education rules? If not, why not and who makes the rules considering we do live in a multicultural and multi-denominational country?
(8) Is involvement with any religious aspects of the Chaplaincy a mandatory obligation for students?
(9) Do students have to opt in or opt out of the religious aspect of the Chaplaincy?

The questions and the concerns expressed in this letter are of vital importance and interest to many people. As children are at the formulation stage of democratic ideas, the hope is that public knowledge on the mechanism and reasoning for and about having Chaplains in schools is freely available, forthright and comprehensive.

Yours sincerely,
David Nicholls
President
Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc.
cc Premier Peter Beattie
Robert Messenger Shadow Minister
Queensland Greens


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