Religion Belongs in Schools

godGiven the School Chaplaincy program is up for review in this year’s federal budget it’s only natural there is a debate about whether or not it should be funded. Critics, including the Australian Rationalist Society, leave no doubt as to their opinion, arguing there is no place for chaplaincy programs in government schools, as they are secular and, supposedly, because there are too many examples of chaplaincy programs pushing extreme religious views. These are depicted as “denigrating” and “harming” students.

The first thing to note is that there are two different programs operating in government schools around Australia and it is wrong to treat the two as equivalent.  The first involves Special Religious Instruction (SRI) classes and the second involves the School Chaplaincy program.

Whereas SRI involves formal lessons with associated curriculum material, the second involves schools receiving funding to employ a chaplain to act as a counsellor and to offer students, teachers and parents social, emotional and spiritual guidance and support. Criticisms concerning alleged examples of unacceptable religious materials finding their way into schools relate to the Special Religious Instruction classes and not school chaplains.

It should also be remembered that the chaplaincy program is voluntary and that in order to receive funding there are strict guidelines that must be agreed to. Parents must give consent before their children are involved, chaplains must not preach or advocate for a religion, and they must also abide by a Code of Conduct that ensures students are not discriminated against because of their sexuality or gender or whether they are religious or not.

And while there are critics it’s also true that there are many who support the continuation of the chaplaincy program.  The Education Minister Simon Birmingham recently argued in a radio interview “many schools find it a valuable additional resource”, adding that “chaplains bring a different perspective, but a very helpful one, to dealing with students in times of crisis and need.”

Contrary to the belief that because government schools are secular and there is no place for initiatives like the chaplaincy programme, or religion more generally, it also should be noted that state-based legislation allows government schools to include religion in the school day.

In Victoria and NSW, for example, legislation permits both religious instruction classes as well as students being taught about what the Victorian act describes as: “the major forms of religious thought and expression characteristic of Australian society and other societies in the world”.

The national road map for Australian schools, the Melbourne Declaration, also suggests religion is allowed when it states that the school curriculum should address moral and spiritual values.  In an increasingly materialistic, ego centred world it’s vital that students understand the importance of the transcendent.

Not surprisingly the body responsible for developing the national curriculum, on which state and territory curricula are based, also suggests religion is important when arguing that students have the right “to learn about different religions, spiritualities and ethical beliefs”.

In Western liberal democracies, such as Australia, Christianity and the Bible, especially the New Testament, underpin our way of life. So much of Western culture’s literature, history, music and art are steeped in Christianity and it makes sense that students are given the opportunity to learn about what is Australia’s major religion.

To argue that chaplains be allowed in government schools and that there be a greater focus on teaching about religion, either through Special Religious Instruction classes or more generally in the school curriculum, is not to preach or try to convert students. To be culturally literate and  fully understand and appreciate what underpins Western civilisation students need to be familiar with the contribution and significance of Christianity.

It’s also vital, given the high rates of anxiety, depression and self-harm among so many young people, that they are able to seek the help of someone in the school experienced and qualified to give support – especially at a time when students are surrounded by a 24/7 digital world involving cyberbullying, sexting and online pornography it’s even more urgent that chaplains are in schools.

Dr Kevin Donnelly is a Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Catholic University and author of How Political Correctness is Destroying Australia (forthcoming Wilkinson Press)


  • Rob Brighton

    I am Athiest.
    Yet I send (sent) my children to a Catholic School because I want them to have an understanding of religion.
    That is entirely different from tipping money into any religious input in schools, I exercised choice whereas government programs do not allow me to do that and I object to my taxes being used in such a way.

    It is not the government’s role, it is my wife’s and my own role to make those choices.

    Enough with the safe space logic, it’s our job to guide our children on how to deal with cyberbullying and whatever other boogymen you envisage not yours…. so back off.

    As an aside, quoting some government minister stating “many schools find it a valuable additional resource” is not any sort of justification, I am here from the government and I am here to help logic is paper thin.

  • Jody

    “It’s also vital, given the high rates of anxiety, depression and self-harm among so many young people, that they are able to seek the help of someone in the school experienced and qualified to give support – especially at a time when students are surrounded by a 24/7 digital world involving cyberbullying, sexting and online pornography it’s even more urgent that chaplains are in schools.”

    No, it’s the permissive and helicopter parenting that needs attention. These are the people needing counselling and chaplains. And has anybody noticed how that permissiveness is now permeating the polity? It’s more than a glimpse into the lives of previous generations that they’ve now grown up demanding ‘safe spaces’ in the public arena. Consequences.

  • Jacob Jonker

    “When will they ever learn!”, could be the leading theme underpinning the eternally, almost, recurring ideological meme messing up and calling out to a dying European culture. Education, education, etc., brainwashing came first, but before that philosophers who had to be written out of the Roman Catholic Christian West’s history or subverted and perverted to be made to support the good cause. Roman Catholics, and European Christians generally, are often disingenuous, rarely not hypocritical and usually, if not ego-centric, certainly Euro-cultic.
    It has not occurred to the mass of Christian apologians that the world has changed since Martin Luther. Now seemingly in its dying days, in the old West, which, for me, includes Australasia, Christians who would save the European Caucasians from an ignominious descent into cultural and racial decrepitude still cannot get their heads around the situation they, we, are in. Will they please wake up? God, the Christian One, is trying Her level best to send one message after another that Christians in the old West should pull their finger out or they, and their cultural copy-cats in Europe, will get tipped into the global maelstrom so as to be tested on whether they will sink or swim on the strength of their spiritual or existential resolve under the prevailing circumstances.

    The prevailing circumstances which Christian Western society had a hand in fashioning almost all by its very self. Put yourself in control of everything and pull out all stops, no holds barred, no psychologically manipulative means too mean, and do your damnedest to maintain control, and when it goes to custard you go on blaming everybody else? Go on, tell us another one.
    Which is what we get, no end of stories and furphies and yet more. Chaplains in schools is a sore point with the many who might still be inclined to not dismiss and denounce Christian religionists out of hand. The Oz Rationalists have a point, even if, by and large, they are religionists just the same, but atheists by faith.

    Parents should have a choice in that regard. Now, the authorities are corrupted beyond measure by the general cultural malaise in Western society-As has been noted in this and other publications. Hence, to look to the relevant (irrelevant?) authority or authorities which might arrange philosophical education generally and historical and contemporary overviews and explanations of institutionalised and de-institutionalised religions and religious thought, observance, ritual and so on is problematic to say the least. Where possible, and where better a place to start than Roman Catholic schools, the instructors should be neutral or a handful of different religions on rota. Eastern philosophy should taught more, if only to catch up with the mass of, mostly outdated, traditional religio-cultural bagage the young are still imbued and burdened with.

    The very people who are complaining about the state of affairs in politics, education, religion and everything else, just about, are by and large the very people who cleave, or are glued, to an outdated meme which, in its essence, is the atavistic vestige of the very obsessively controlling and dominant religious tradition which signally failed to keep up with events. Thinkers know what the problem is in the Establishment, the Christian institutions in the West having got corrupted beyond measure, its core and most of the rest in sociopolitical, cultural and other terms having gone with the rest of the Establishment, have lost the plot, insofar as they are not scheming to turn the world into one large animal farm on a neo-feudal kind of dictatorship basis.

    Certainly, most of the great and good in the Establishment, whether in or without the Christian institutions, have failde dismally and finally in terms of Christian principles, and, of course, in relation to THE Christian Principal, European culture, European civilisation, civic duty, human rights and quite a few others which pop up into prominence from time to time. It is one thing to say that nobody is perfect, it’s another to make a meal of it and forget, while perverting the cause and denying it is so, or stonewalling resistance. The religious institutional political operators who might, at some stage, stayed the rot, have been replaced long ago by the usurpers, hijackers and corruptors of the heart of European culture-The wages of sin.

    In the bigger, universal, scheme of things, things are as they are because…, because of what has been done and said before, and left unsaid and undone before. Do people in the West wish to make a stand? It might be useful to discern how you, we, got there in the first place. After WW II, in the old West(Australasia included, remember) American coca-colonisation went ahead without restraint, if not without some feeble protesting at times. This, evidently, was progress which we had to have, or maybe not. The Establishment in the old West was bought, or otherwise brought on board the new old American way of doing commerce. It was only a variation of the old Western, European, way of doing things, except, now the old West was being colonised.

    Religious education: Not far from Manukau, on the current outer boundary of greater Auckland, a complex of Buddhist temples arose some years ago. From my perspective, it had the rulers of the People’s Republic of China’s fingerprints all over it, a sign of things to come. The influence from Beijing in Australasia has been pervasive and insistent. This is nothing to do with multiculturalism. It is simply a handover from one overlord to another, with, hardly necessary to point out, the imprimatur of the people controlling the people. The Establishment in the West is not in power, please take note. The Establishment in the West is in control on behalf of they who are in power. Putting chaplains in schools, or not, and quibbling about it, is pretty much pissing into the wind, dear chaps, chaplains and chapesses.

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