Australians Debate Funding Of Public School Chaplains

A recent investigation into Australia’s National School Chaplaincy Program has led many Australians to wonder if the program is fair or even necessary.

A discussion paper released in February showed that school chaplains are overwhelmingly Christian and not reflective of the religious beliefs of the community. While only 64 percent of Australians are Christian, 98.5 percent of chaplains funded under the program are Christian.

Those with no religious beliefs make up 19 percent of the country, but only 0.01 percent of chaplains in the program are secular. Buddhists make up 2 percent of Australia, but only 0.03 percent of the school chaplains are Buddhist.

The discussion paper overall determined that “the faith of chaplains employed under the program does not represent the proportion of state religious affiliations of the general Australia population.”

The chaplaincy program was established in 2007. It funds 2,681 schools and will cost about $400 million through 2014. Each school receives $20,000 a year to pay for chaplaincy. Catholic schools receive 17 percent of the program’s largess.

Susie O’Brien, a columnist for Melbourne’s Herald Sun, said the program should be abolished.

“Many school kids need greater help from professional counselors who can do more than just tell them that God cares for them,” she wrote in a Feb. 15 column.