Results from a new survey have again brought into question the taxpayer funding of exclusively religious chaplains in public institutions such as schools and the military.

Of 1,000 Australians polled by professional survey company Dynata, only 22 per cent of non-religious people said they would be likely to seek support from religious chaplains, whereas 49 per cent would be likely to seek pastoral support from a non-religious pastoral support provider.

The results back up evidence given to the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal by the Navy’s top chaplain and another high-ranking officer earlier this year about the inadequacies of providing only religious pastoral services. Among the main critiques raised was that serving personnel and their families were sometimes reluctant to access support from religious chaplains.

Humanists Victoria and the Humanist Society of ACT, the sponsors of the survey, told the National Secular Lobby that the results pointed to a clear need for government to provide non-religious pastoral care in taxpayer-funded institutions.

This was the survey question:

"Please imagine you were either in or visiting someone at a hospital, prison or university and there was both a chaplaincy service and a non-religious pastoral support service available. If you felt unhappy, distressed or concerned, how likely or unlikely do you think you would be to access support from: (a) a chaplain; or (b) a non-religious pastoral support provider?”

Of the religious respondents, 40% said they would be likely to call upon a non-religious provider, while 58% would be likely to call upon a chaplain.

Rod Bower, president of Humanists Victoria, says non-religious pastoral support providers must be made available alongside chaplains in places where support is needed, such as hospitals, prisons, the military, schools and emergency services.

“Current examples include humanist care volunteers sponsored by the ACT Humanist Society and professionals such as those recently announced by the Royal Australian Navy. But many more are needed in a variety of settings,” he says.

With the number of non-religious people in Australia growing rapidly, National Secular Lobby president Peter Monk says the survey gives further proof of the high demand for non-religious pastoral support providers.

This is especially the case in the Australian Defence Force (ADF), where the majority of service personnel now identify as non-religious. The 2019 Defence Census – the release of which has already twice been delayed by the Department of Defence this year – is expected to show the continued surge in the number of the non-religious ADF personnel to about 60 per cent.

Similarly, the federal government is spending $247 million over the four years from 2019 to 2022 to put exclusively religious chaplains into public schools as part of the National School Chaplaincy Program.

“Australian taxpayers expect public institutions to provide the best possible range of wellbeing and mental health support,” says Peter.

“If a significant proportion of those people within those institutions do not want to seek help from religious chaplains, then we as a nation are failing them.”

This is another post in our #SecularMilitary campaign which is shining a spotlight on religious privilege in our armed forces.

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At the National Secular Lobby, we're pleased to have joined forces with a number of pro-secular community organisations in the #DontDivideUs campaign against the proposed Religious Discrimination Bill. Add your voice to the campaign.