“Atheists opposed to federal funding for school chaplains managed to outstrip opponents of Australia’s new carbon tax in popular polling on OurSay to participate in tomorrow’s Google+ hangout with Julia Gillard.” – Misha Schubert, National Political Editor – THE SUNDAY AGE
On Saturday July 21, David Nicholls, President of the Atheist Foundation of Australia, will participate in a live Google+ “hangout” with Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
In April 2012, the Atheist Foundation of Australia hosted the world’s largest atheist convention, and today, Australia ranks as a leading non religious nation. “It is no surprise that Australia’s atheist community easily mobilised votes to take a virtual seat across from the PM at tomorrow’s “hangout”, said Nicholls.
The question, which won a top spot in the online democracy process, attempts to get at why the Prime Minister has extended the controversial “National Schools Chaplaincy Program” against the advice of her own experts.
“Why are we putting people in schools who are not trained in anything but to pray?” asked David Nicholls in The Age on July 19.
“We’re embarrassed that our government has short changed the Australian Guidance & Counselling Association and instead shunted almost half a billion dollars into parachurch ministries like Scripture Union and ACCESS, who are on a mission to spread the gospel in our schools”.
ACCESS Ministries CEO, Evonne Paddison, has said that “churches are on a slow death march” and that they must “plant churches” and “make disciples” in our schools. Nicholls, says statements like these disqualify groups like ACCESS and Scripture Union, and demonstrate why it is bad to play politics with religion.
“It’s entirely disingenuous to hire people because they are Christians and then demand they not attempt to influence the beliefs of others. If Christians want to be guidance counsellors, they should get certified like everybody else” said Nicholls.
The Australian Psychological Society objected to the program, producing evidence that school chaplains are engaging in duties for which they are not qualified and has issued a report saying that “the government has been complicit in encouraging dangerous professional behavior by funding chaplains independently of other services carried out by professionals who are both qualified and registered.”
“We fear the government has used the Chaplaincy issue to buy political support from the Religious Right at the expense of the needs of Australian children, and at the expense of ideals which most Australians value, namely that the government should not play politics with religion”, said Nicholls.
Even Labor’s Foreign Minister Bob Carr has said that the program undermines some of the most important values of Australian society, the separation of church and state, “it is indefensible that all taxpayers are required to support a program that is gradually becoming church evangelism.”
You can watch the live Google+ “hangout” online at 11:00am AEST this Saturday July 21 via http://youtube.com/deakinuniversity, and participate on Twitter using the hashtag #PMhangout.