Decision to ban chaplains from ACT public schools ‘misguided’

School chaplaincy providers say the ACT’s decision to ban chaplains from public schools is “legally wrong” and goes against decades of proof that suggest chaplains equipped to deal with the spiritual dimensions add value in the school system.

The ACT’s Education Minister, Yvette Berry, told ABC News on Friday that the territory would withdraw from the Schools Chaplaincy Program from the end of the year.

Under the existing School Chaplaincy Program, schools can opt in for up to $20,000 in federal funding for a chaplain. The Coalition government has mandated that chaplains must have a religious affiliation to receive that funding.

There are currently 22 chaplains employed in ACT schools, according to the National School Chaplaincy Association (NSCA). “[They are] funded at no cost to the ACT government,” the NSCA said in a statement.

Berry told the ABC that those chaplains could continue to be employed “to do youth work and social work … but that is conducted in a non-religious way”.

NCSA spokesperson Peter James told Eternity that employing religious chaplains in a non-religious role was “ludicrous”.

“By removing the spiritual dimensions of care, [the Education Minister] is trying to keep the fruit that chaplains produce but is killing the tree,” James said.

“Secular doesn’t mean the exclusion of all things religious.” – Peter James

In its statement, the NCSA said the ACT decision was an attempt to exercise state control over how students formed their worldview.

James said he was informed by the ACT Education Minister that secularism meant chaplaincy was incompatible with the operation of ACT government schools.

“Secular does not mean removing support for students to explore spirituality. Secular doesn’t mean the exclusion of all things religious,” James said.

“Even secular learning and wellbeing frameworks recognise the importance of spiritual support as part of achieving student wellbeing and educational outcomes. The fact that so many schools choose to be part of chaplaincy speaks for the success of the program.”

The NCSA says it will seek to have the ACT’s decision reversed and is speaking to schools and parents.

Federal Labor confirmed last week that, should it win government in the federal election, funding for the School Chaplaincy Program would continue, though under its policy schools would be given a choice to have either a secular worker or a religious chaplain.

“By saying that spirituality should be out completely from schools, the ACT Education Minister has taken an even more extreme view. She’s removing the choice from schools completely,” James said.