Last week saw a significant and surprising decision by the High Court of Australia which ruled that chaplaincy in schools is invalid. It effectively alleged that chaplaincy funding is not an appropriate legislative power of government. Section 51 xxiiiA allows governments to legislate for the “benefit of students”, but the High Court has now decided what this does and does not include.
It surely stands to reason that section 61 affirms the executive authority of the Queen who happens to be the head of the Church of England and presumably has no objection to chaplaincy! One wonders what else the High Court would like to question the government’s right to do.
Separation of Church and State is often cited as an important consideration here. This does not mean, though, that the Church cannot be involved in, inform or critique matters of State, or vice versa. To legislate against religious involvement might, after all, be alleged to promote the alterative religion of atheism as an affirmation of a presumptive system of thought. A ruling against chaplains is therefore no more constitutionally valid than a ruling in favour of them.
To suggest that chaplains brainwash or proselytise is ill-informed. They are simply not allowed to unless the school approves it (for example, in church-based organisations). Most, if not all, government-school chaplains respect the established boundaries and sensitively and responsibly offer counsel of a general pastoral nature, offering more overt faith perspectives only upon the invitation of students.
Given that the majority of schools value the work of chaplains who offer professional and regulated support, one has to wonder why other trained professionals should be preferred. The scaremongering against religion undermines an enormous amount of good work being done in attempting to fix what ain’t broke. It also betrays a deliberate anti-religious agenda by some.
In the end, Australia has constitutional provisions that can enable Christianisation but which don’t actually prevent far less than this, except when secular idealogues adapt them to suit their own agenda in proceeding down the slippery slope of change.
Perhaps the sleeping giant of growth in evangelical and charismatic Christian churches might one day arise to assert its place with positivity and promise amongst the young people of our nation who are sadly being spoken for by a minority of people offended by ideas which do infinitely more good than harm.