SCHOOLS in Australia which would rather have a secular welfare officer rather than a religious chaplain can now do so, following changes made to the country’s controversial national school chaplaincy programme.
The amendment was announced by Schools Minister Peter Garrett – and, according to this report, among the first to applaud the move was Essendon Keilor College in Melbourne’s north-west.
Principal David Adamson said he would be applying for a secular chaplain:
As soon as the forms arrive. We decided as a secular school we didn’t want to have a religious person come into the school because we have a very multicultural background in our students, so I think this is an excellent idea.
Previously schools were able to hire a secular welfare worker only if they showed efforts to find an ordained chaplain had failed.
Garrett said the decision to add secular ”student welfare” workers was a reflection of community concerns over the religious nature of the existing system.
It was an issue that had been raised in the consultation process â€¦ and it’s an issue which we’ve always known is one which some parents and some school groups and organisations have raised previously.
Christian whingeing began immediately after the announcement. The Australian Christian Lobby’s Managing Director Jim Wallace said that widening the programme broke a promise made by Prime Minister Julia Gillard in the lead-up to the 2010 election.
The government’s commitment before the election was that the chaplaincy programme would retain its unique faith-based pastoral care emphasis.
Almost 2,700 schools take part in the programme, which gives them up to $20,000 a year in grants for chaplains, and Labor plans to extend it to another 1,000 schools.
A poll in The Age shows enormous support for the change: