There was a lot of controversial decisions that emerged from the 2014 Federal Budget announcement. Like, a lot. Yet one of the most talked-about facets was the announcement of $245 million in funding to go towards a school chaplaincy program, while scrapping funding for non-religious counselors. It was a puzzling move – one that further blurred the lines of separation between church and state that have continued to come into question since the change in government.
This morning, that decision was defeated by the High Court, who ruled it invalid. It was a unanimous decision – deemed as such given it was not supported by a head of constitutional power. This move could well spell big trouble as the Government continues trying to wrestle its budget through Parliament, calling into question the validity of a number of other big-ticket items that also lack such support – but for starters, let’s focus on this decision – and why it was the most logical step to be taken.
Newsflash: Not everyone believes in God – and using religious influences to try and provide counsel to struggling kids is simply nonsensical.
To say that all school chaplains are geared towards these destructive ways of teaching would be a wildly inappropriate generalization to make. There are some out there who genuinely do good work, and that can’t be discounted. However, there are also those who aren’t as enlightened – and forcing them upon teenagers, who are already in the middle of perhaps the most unstable period of their lives, is a very problematic thing.
Yesterday, outgoing Labor senator Louise Pratt used one of her final speeches in Parliament to note that:
I know some great chaplains – they work with love and authenticity, doing wonderful things for our young people. But on a national level we must face the fact that our chaplaincy program is failing Australian young people
Pratt later went on to cite a recent study survey conducted by gay rights group All Out, which bought some very troubling revelations to the surface. Mainly, that ‘Pray the gay away’ was very much a mentality that is being pedaled by these chaplains, already working in schools and holding a massive influence over the minds of tomorrow.
It’s 2014. This is a manner of thinking that is simply unacceptable, and not just for teenagers identifying as LGBTI – but for those in that age group who are seeking guidance and support on any number of issues that can (and will) emerge while traversing the rocky seas of adolescence. Figures in the church can very easily brush off claims of homophobia – but the second they sit down a questioning kid and tell them that those thoughts in their head they have no control over are a sin?
That’s a very dangerous thing.
It can’t be stressed enough how much of a tumultuous those adolescent years are. It can be easy to let go of that pain as we move further into our own futures – but for the large majority, it wasn’t an easy time. Those circumstances that might lead one to seeking help are usually the things that religious figures wouldn’t exactly be stoked with: diverse sexuality, pregnancy, drugs etc. It takes a great deal of courage to seek out help in these situations, and there should be absolutely no chance of being greeted with anything than complete and total understanding, free from the paradigmatic constructs of a religious context.
Again, this is not meant to generalize. There are school chaplains out there who are doing a fantastic job. There are also those who aren’t. As a secular society we have a responsibility to provide the next generation with the tools and support network to help get them through to the next stage of their lives, and this High Court ruling is a massive win for common sense.
When it comes to a decision between a reasoned and empathetic approach or a religious one – how is there even a question?
Words by HARRISON CARTWRIGHT, who was once told by a High School scripture teacher that discrimination is okay – as long as you’re discriminating against the right types of people.