The National School Chaplaincy Program continues to discriminate against non-Christians, according to Reason Party leader, Fiona Patten.
She therefore accuses the Victorian government of “turning a blind eye” to the blatant religious discrimination which excludes non-believers from acting as counsellors.
Patten is introducing a Bill to force state schools to abide by anti-discrimination laws, as a result.
School Chaplaincy program discriminates
John Howard introduced the National School Chaplaincy Program in 2006 in a desperate bid to win the evangelical Christian vote.
The program subsequently expanded and now receives hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer funding.
The chaplains are recruited by external third party contractors that all require applicants to be Christian.
However, Patten said the education department’s own guidelines state that “chaplains may be from any faith or of no faith”.
“Public school staff should be hired on merit. Religious affiliation should be irrelevant.
“Yet all of the provider organisations that the department contracts to hire chaplains, bar possibly one, will only hire Christians.
“If you’re a Muslim, Hindu, Jew or atheist, you will not meet the key selection criteria to apply for these jobs in our public school system.”
Bill forces schools to hire directly
Patten’s Bill requires state schools to hire counsellors directly, rather than through external contractors, thereby forcing them to abide by anti-discrimination laws.
“The department might be willing to look the other way when its contractors tell potential job applicants, ‘Sorry you don’t have a reference from a church minister’.
“But, Victorian public schools would never themselves put out a job ad saying ‘Christians only’”.
Previous legal challenge
Previously, the Victorian government settled a case with school counsellor Juliette Armstrong.
Patten said despite her qualifications, recruitment agencies refused to employ Armstrong as a result of her atheism.
“Even though she had post-graduate qualifications as a counsellor and even though she had years of experience as a school chaplain, she was unable to apply for a job because she did not have a Christian affiliation.”
“DISCRIMINATORY SCHOOL CHAPLAIN PROGRAM FACING LEGAL CHALLENGE”
Government will fight the bill
The Victorian government is expected to fight Patten’s Bill, however.
State Education Minister James Merlino defended the program, saying that chaplains hired under the scheme perform valuable work for students and also for school communities.
However, Patten said the department should comply with state equal opportunity laws which require employers to not discriminate.
“There is no place for religious discrimination in school staffing just like there is no place for religious discrimination in the schoolyard.
“The standard you walk past is the standard you accept, and none of us should be walking past this.”
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