Secularists warn against 'proselytising' through school chaplaincy programmes

(Photo: abcdz2000)

Secularists have warned against "proselytising" through chaplaincy programmes in England after new plans were implemented to fund school chaplaincies in Australia.

There are currently chaplains in about 600 of the 800 'public' or state schools in Western Australia. Queensland also has chaplains in its schools.

After one Queensland father, Ron Williams, successfully challenged the national programme, the High Court ruled in June that the Commonwealth had no executive power to fund it.

The federal government will now continue to fund the chaplaincy programme to the tune of $240 million, but the separate states will instead administer the scheme. Chaplains are not allowed to attempt to convert students.

Williams told ABC News in Australia: "Look I think it's all pretty disgraceful, the callous arrogance being displayed by the Federal Government on this. They seem to regard it as some bizarre kind of game of whack a mole or something that every time the High Court makes a decision, the next part in the game is to try and find some [way] to circumvent it."

He added: "The entire program has wafted across the past seven years on rhetoric and anecdote and has never been subjected to any scrutiny whatsoever."

Peter Collier, education minister for Western Australia, said: "The issue as far as the federal funding was concerned was always a technical issue. I'm just pleased that the Federal Government has continued ... their commitment to fund it and we will cooperate wherever possible to ensure that the chaplaincy program continues to be provided in Western Australian schools."

John Paul Langbroek, Queensland education minister, said he was satisfied with the funding condition that chaplains are not allowed to try to convert students.

Other territories such as South Australia will not avail themselves of the funding unless the Federal Government backs down and allows secular social workers to be funded.

Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, said: "Our researches are showing that increasingly in England too, scarce public funding is being diverted away from academe and professional counselling into chaplaincy, which is in essence proselytising. Only around four per cent of parents attend church, and polls show most do not wish their children to have religion forced on them at school, especially if this means less time and resources spent on other subjects."