A bit of a storm today over the issue of the Sydney Anglican Diocese’s position on the Government’s Schools Chaplaincy progamme. It all kicked off this morning with an “exclusive” article in the smh, “Anglicans: No chaplains, scripture in public schools“:
As the Federal Government considers the fate of its National School Chaplaincy Program after the High Court ruled the commonwealth could not fund it, the executive director of the [Sydney Anglican Education] Commission, Bryan Cowling, said there was no evidence the chaplaincy program was effective.
Dr Cowling, a former head of curriculum in the NSW Department of Education, said a long-term goal of public schools should be to replace scripture classes with a mandatory “world view and ethics” class providing students with a “broad exposure” to many religions.
Not exactly what the diocesan hierarchy wanted to read over their morning coffee.
Sources tell me that Cowling’s remarks were fairly accurately reported. Nevertheless, this afternoon a release was issued:
Religion vital to Australian education
Recent press reports have seriously misrepresented the position of the Anglican Education Commission on public education policy.
The commission has not called for the scrapping of the chaplaincy program or for the replacement of Special Religious Education (Scripture) in NSW schools.
By conflating several distinct policy areas, a report in the Sydney Morning Herald (Page 1, 25/6/14) seriously misled the public.
It is unfortunate that in the debate about the future of the National School Chaplaincy Program, the provision of NSW scripture (SRE) has been linked to chaplaincy. These are, and have always been, separate. The SRE program is not government-funded.
In its submission to the recent Review of the Australian Curriculum, the Anglican Education Commission, in looking to the long term, argued for the inclusion of a mandatory study of ‘Worldviews and Ethics’, which would incorporate the study of all religions and be available for all students. If such a subject was added to the Australian Curriculum it would have significant benefits for all students.
This would not replace the vital SRE program in NSW schools and as a national move, would have much wider implications.
The Anglican Education Commission in the Diocese of Sydney strongly believes that education is incomplete unless it includes a study of religion. The diocese has had a strong history as both a provider of education through diocesan schools and in the provision of Special Religious Education (Scripture) in public schools. The Commission is absolutely committed to the future of both.
Secondly, the diocese, like the Catholic Church, does not have a policy on chaplaincy as such. The AEC has not called for the scrapping of the chaplains program. However, should the NSW Government decide to take over the chaplaincy program in its present form, some hard questions will need to be asked about its nomenclature and whether ‘chaplain’ is the right word to use for such a program. If the program is purely a secular one, why not call it a welfare program and direct its focus to the high priority areas of wellness, psychology and student health?
Press reports with misleading headlines and out-of-context quotes are not helpful as governments consider these crucial areas of policy.
This is part of a wider debate in Australia at the moment over government funding ($20k/annum/chaplain) of school chaplains, the vast majority of whom have a clear affiliation with a Christian organisation. Failings by some chaplains has been highlighted by detractors. What’s probably worth considering in this whole thing is:
- That $20k is nowhere near what it costs to employ such a chaplain. In which case the funding is a subsidy of a chaplain that the school itself has chosen to employ.
- The debate is only one expression of a wider secularising agenda in Western Culture.
- One of the main points of contention raised by opponents is the question of how chaplains will respond to students with diverse sexualities. Not only is the issue straight secularisation but also the new sexual ethic agenda. It ought to be no surprise that the 2 come together.
And yet despite all this opposition, many wonderful men and women are giving of themselves to serve students in schools across the country. Many more are teaching SRE (“Scripture”). In fact I heard about the story just as I was finshing 2 lessons with 50 kids telling them how all about what the Bible says about Jesus just as their parents had elected and the school encouraged. There’s certainly a place for religious thinking in schools, as long as schools are places where we enourage thinking and don’t seek to silence those we don’t agree with.