In a speech to the Victorian parliament last week, Fiona Patten took a stand for secularism as she introduced legislation to end discriminatory practices in the hiring of religious chaplains in public schools.
The Reason Party leader is seeking to amend the Education and Training Reform Act 2006 to ensure that public school staff members can only be employed in compliance with the non-discriminatory standards in the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 and Public Administration Act 2004.
Until now, contractors of the state’s Department of Education and Training have been only hiring Christians for student welfare roles, funded under the National School Chaplaincy Program. This contradicts the Department’s own guidelines, which provide for welfare workers of any faith or of no faith.
“These people have the slightly misleading job title of ‘chaplain’. The work they perform is not meant to be religious; they are meant to be student welfare workers,” said Fiona, who is also an ambassador for the National Secular Lobby.
“The Department might be willing to look the other way when its contractors tell potential job applicants, 'Sorry, you don't have a reference from a church minister'. But Victorian public schools would never themselves put out a job ad saying 'Christians only'."
In response, the Australian Christian Lobby has attacked Patten, arguing that the legislation “marks a new wave of attacks on faith-based freedom and support in schools” and is somehow discriminatory against Christians.
Recently, we’ve highlighted the privileging of taxpayer-funded religious chaplaincy programs in public institutions such as schools and the military, even as demand for, and confidence in, such programs has continued to drop.
A Dynata survey, published on our blog last month, showed that very few non-religious people would be likely to seek support from religious chaplains.
National Secular Lobby president Peter Monk welcomed the new Bill.
"Ever since Victoria established its 'free, secular and compulsory' public education system in 1872, it's been subject to creeping religious influence," he said.
"We should not be forfeiting the fundamental protections of our anti-discrimination laws to support the privileging of religious interests in our public institutions."
This is another post on the topic of #SecularSchools in Australia.
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.