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Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

School Chaplaincy under Attack

Jun 19, 2014

The High Court ruling against federal funding of school chaplains raises a number of issues, and should give us all pause as to how we might respond. On the one hand this is another ominous decision, but there are other considerations here as well. First, the story itself goes like this, as one news account runs:

The High Court has ruled against federal government funding of school chaplains. Today it upheld the objections of Queensland father Ron Williams, who launched the case saying there was no place in public schools for non-secular programs. Former prime minister John Howard introduced the controversial program in the lead-up to the 2007 election. It allows Australian schools to apply for $20,000 grants towards the cost of employing a school chaplain.
The government seems to be considering legislation to keep the program going. During a press conference this morning Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the government would carefully study the judgment and make an appropriate response. He said the government supported the program and wanted it to continue.

high court ozAs I say, plenty of things can be said about all this. One is the extraordinary power that one angry misotheist can have on an entire nation. The majority of Australians still identify as Christians, yet here we have one irate atheist seemingly able to hold the whole nation to ransom.

Second, this tells us once again what a secular left government – or at least judiciary – we now have in Australia. We can easily see this as just another example of the relentless war against religion, and yet more anti-Christian bigotry. And this simply gets worse as time goes by.

Third, we could spend this entire article – and then some – telling about all the tremendous good school chaplains have done over the years. Countless school children have benefitted so very greatly from the service, self-sacrifice, and long hours of volunteer care by these chaplains.

A fourth issue is rather different, but nonetheless related. I refer to the general notion of government funding of schools. I do not have time here to get into that whole debate, but can just mention a few quick points. It was of course people like B. A. Santamaria who decades ago fought for some equity here.

He rightly argued that some people, such as Catholics, were facing double jeopardy in this: having to subsidise with their tax dollars secular government schools, while also having to dish out money to send their children to non-government schools.

Two other quick points about this: the debate can still be had as to whether and to what extent governments should be involved in school funding at all. And the case for a school voucher system can be raised here again, if there is to be such funding. I discuss that elsewhere: billmuehlenberg.com/1991/06/10/a-review-of-choice-in-schooling-by-david-kirkpatrick/

But back to this particular case. Several more things can be said about it. One important consideration is the old principle of course of “he who pays the piper gets to call the tune”. If governments fund religious bodies, then there will always be tremendous pressure for those groups to compromise their principles in order to keep the funding coming in.

That is a very real concern, and cases of it happen all the time. For example I know of one well-known and long-established Christian social agency which still receives government funding. Years ago it was part of a pro-family initiative, but it pulled out eventually.

The problem was this: it had to choose between compromise and capitulation – in this case, bowing to the homosexual agenda – and keep the money pouring in, or stand on Christian principle regarding marriage and family and resist the government pressure to conform.

Sadly this group decided to jettison its Christian principles and keep the government funding. Regrettably this is not uncommon. There is always a risk when a Christian group allows itself to be dictated to by secular left governments, simply to get some finances.

Perhaps better to stay fully true to God and his Word, and allow him to provide the finances, instead of depending on the secular state, with the constant temptation to water things down and go for the easy compromise. As such it may well be crunch time for many such Christian bodies.

As the government gets increasingly hostile to all things Christian, many of these groups will have to make a clear choice: will they stay true to biblical Christianity, or will they cave in order to keep the public monies flowing? This may well be one of the defining gospel tests of our time.

And there is plenty of reason to worry about such government pulling of the strings. Consider what one radical homosexual activist has said about the chaplaincy programs. He is crowing about how many of them have already caved in and are now happily supporting the homosexual agenda:

Last week in Launceston and Burnie, groups of chaplains participated in professional development training about the needs of LGBTI young people. The training was conducted by Relationships Australia (RA) with the support of the Scripture Union of Tasmania which runs the Tasmanian school chaplaincy program. More training is planned across the state in the coming months. I understand the training was well received. RA’s Tasmanian LGBTI suicide prevention project officer, Sharon Jones, said afterwards:
“The training was a great success with chaplains enthusiastic to learn about LGBTI issues. I’m confident they will take what they learnt into the work place and look forward to doing more training with chaplains soon.” The Chaplaincy Development Manager at the Scripture Union, Peter Swift, was also pleased with the results: “There have been many misunderstandings about the chaplaincy program. Chaplains support and work alongside anyone in a non judgmental, caring way. It has been good to be part of this training and we look forward to continuing to work with the LGBTI community in training our chaplains.”
My hope is that from small beginnings in Tasmania, training of chaplains in LGBTI issues will become standard across Australia. I’m optimistic that this training, together with clear state education department guidelines about how chaplains deal with LGBTI students, can turn chaplains into a valuable resource for these students and their families.

Let me translate that last line for you: “I am thrilled that we can turn these formerly Christian chaplains into willing dupes, pawns and facilitators of the anti-biblical homosexual agenda.” That is really what is happening here. And if that is the case, then all the more reason to tell the state to get lost.

If the only thing that happens with such state funding is that more and more Christian groups compromise on core biblical truths and simply capitulate to the spirit of the age, then I for one say, be gone to all such funding. Far, far better to fully rely on God for a change instead of sucking up to a hostile and secular state.

This will indeed separate the men from the boys, the sheep from the goats. Who will stand for Christ, trust in him alone, and refuse to bend the knee to Baal? Will we abandon Christian truth just to get government handouts, or will we fully trust God in all things – including the financing of Kingdom works?

So this decision can be looked at in various ways. And it may well be a mixed blessing. Yes it is another sad example of anti-Christian bigotry. But it may well wake up some Christian groups, and cause them to look at what is really important, and who they really trust in.

If it causes a few groups to repent of compromise, capitulation, and dependency on the secular state, that may be a very good outcome indeed.

www.heraldsun.com.au/news/national/high-court-rules-against-federal-government-funding-of-school-chaplains/story-fni0xqrb-1226959661271
www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2014/06/16/4026248.htm

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29 Responses to School Chaplaincy under Attack

  • Very sad news today. I have also noticed that a few Christian teachers are now lamely toeing the Dept of Ed policy to teach acceptance of Gay and Lesbian practices when they should stand firm…

  • Let’s keep our heads on this. The issue is not funding per se but the method of funding directly by the Commonwealth.

    It seems lots of stuff has been funded inappropriately in the past, and in a so we should be grateful for the unconstitutional being identified.

  • Thanks Rowland. I was not aware of my head going anywhere. I simply raise some issues here. And the ongoing anti-Christian bias of the State is always something every true Christian should be very concerned about.

  • No doubt these chaplains will “support and work alongside anyone in a non- judgmental, caring way” with those who are minor attracted persons.

    http://communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/middle-class-guy/2011/aug/17/b4uact-seek-acceptance-minor-attracted-pedophiles/

    http://www.b4uact.org/

    David Skinner UK

  • Interesting and important aspects in this article. I was involved setting up chaplaincies before government funding and doing the hard yards putting the need to the churches. I warned back then that we would eventually be pushed to compromise. Fact is many schools want chaplains who work from their belief system. It will be up to them to urge the government to continue the program allowing chaplains to be Christian chaplains. Whatever – here is a call to bolder and clearer presentation of those beliefs which are the basis of the values and behaviours which alone humanise our societies.

  • Thanks Bill – let’s hope Mr Abbott does carefully consider the judgment. I agree with you – who wants the funding if we have to compromise freedom of conscience, belief and expression – the cost is too high.

  • If only the government was willing to pay for people who were trained in how to deal with the effects of domestic violence, depression and suicide! It’s a shame that doesnt exist. We could call these magical people “counselors”, “social workers” or maybe even “psychologists”. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? And then those people could actually help to address problems children face instead of preaching

  • Thanks Andre. But let me call your bluff. Christian school chaplains are of course trained and accredited. And they of course deal every day with “domestic violence, depression and suicide” – and much, much more. As a result countless children have been wonderfully helped, encouraged and assisted along the way. Sorry, fail – please go to the back of the atheist class.

  • For surely we are attacked on all sides, (but without giving-way) – a contemporary scenario just like St Paul encountered in the Apostolic era of the Church.

  • “Domestic violence, depression and suicide” within the gay community are blamed on the so -called eroto – negative, puritanical and oppressive attitudes of the Christians. The argument being that if this jugementalism were removed then the gays would relax, stop their violence, depression and high suicide rates. But the evidence shows that in those countries and places where there is complete social acceptance of homosexuality, such as the Netherlands and California, this has done nothing to stop either the violence or the the high rate of spreading sexually transmitted diseases. No, it is their God -given conscience within the homosexual that gives them no rest. Their torment would exist even if they were living on desert island with no one else to blame.

    As I say the paedophiles, euphemistically called “ minor attracted persons” are using the same arguments as the “straight” gays in gaining public acceptance.

    David Skinner UK

  • Some churches in Northern Ireland have pulled out of being registered as charities and as Bill said simply trust God for their finances.
    http://www.christian.org.uk/press-releases/ni-churches-under-threat-from-charity-commission-guidance/

    David Skinner UK

  • Bill,

    There are three separate economies ordained by God: the economy of the family, funded by family business and employment; the economy of the Church, funded by tithes and offerings from prosperous families; and the economy of the state, funded by taxes from prosperous families. When these economies are mixed up, then there is an aberration of economics. Church, stop drawing funds from the state. Families, start tithing and provide the church with resources to get on with the business that God has called the church to get on with. State, take only what God has ordained for you to take: only enough so that even the poorest of families can afford to pay. This will keep families prosperous enough to look after their own, the church healthy enough to look after families that fall through the cracks, and the state poor enough to keep out of everyone else’s business.

    God bless,

    Lance A Box

  • I agree we must always be alert and passionate about our faith…Just wondering how you would suggest chaplains respond to these issues? Seeing most churches also contribute to the salary of chaplains, $20,000 does not go a long way to keeping a chaplain in a school without the extra funding from churches etc. Isn’t it better to have a christian in the schools than to have to completely bow out, which is what would happen if it were completely funded by churches (if of course Christians would be willing to contribute)? Chaplains would never be allowed in the schools at all and we would give this territory over to the enemy by abdication. Chaplaincy is not seen as a charity so cannot use this avenue.

    Also I know $20,000 would certainly not pay for a professional psychologist, Counsellor etc. as they would not be willing to work for this small amount. Personally knowing many school chaplains myself, I have to attest to the amazing work they do with students, regardless.
    As a hospital chaplain with restrictions also around me, I have been constantly amazed at the creative ways the Holy Spirit works within people’s hearts.

    I believe as His child, I am a carrier of His Presence and I have learned to never underestimate the power of God and His ability to breakthrough any man made obstacles! Prayer makes all the difference and this is why all chaplains need to have people constantly praying for them, personally and corporately. They are out ‘in the lions den’ or ‘sitting amongst the captives’ so to speak. At least they are not sitting in the pews or expecting people to come to the church, but are actively out in the highways and byways.. Many Christians have been praying for a long time about this program being under threat.
    Yes, we must not be willing to compromise, but never, ever underestimate the power of God and His desire to see all men saved!! I often come home amazed at what He does despite the enemy’s strategies. I pray chaplains may be able to continue to work in schools for as long as possible.

  • The issue here with the ruling is the method of funding. Basically the High court is saying that the Federal Government doesn’t have the power to do this and it is up to the states to fund this sort of thing should they want. While the guy wants to stop the whole program, the courts didn’t have issue with the program just they way it is funded. Basically the way the High court ruled is on the separation of powers in our constitution and Education was one that given to the States. A simple remedy would just be to fund it via the states right now. But the ruling affects far more than just this program. I wonder if he realised the unintended consequences of his actions.

  • Bill,

    If we are talking about unconstitutional funding, then we need to talk about the unconstitutional funding of schools by the Federal coffers. Education is a state jurisdiction, constitutionally. The back door of Federal funding was opened during the sixties. It should have been challenged then, and not allowed to develop into the full-blown centralist control that it has become (i.e. Australian Curriculum, National Standards for teachers, etc.). Where were the church leaders at that time?

    The Roman Catholics understood the issue and protested against statist education when the Baptists and Presbyterians and others were ranting and calling for Secular, Free and Compulsory education in the late 1800’s. We are suffering under the weight of bad thinking in the church. Bad thinking leads to bad living – “as a man thinks in his heart, so is he.”

    We have a very tangled educational web, and it will not be unknotted until we acknowledge that the state has no business in education at all; none, nix, natha.

    Families must fund the education of their own children. The church must help those families that are struggling. The state must get out of the business of education, altogether.

    Won’t happen in my life time, or the life time of my children’s children, but, if our society is to move forward and not completely go under, then we have to make the shift in thinking and dependence.

    Grow up church, and stop sucking at the breast of the nanny state.

    God bless,

    Lance A Box

  • Bill, After the announcement of the high court a legal expert said that the funding of chaplains would be by grants to the states. Also other programs will be effected by this annoucement.

    Neil Herbert

  • The ruling relates to present funding arrangements, not school chaplains per se, which the High Court in 2012 ruled were not unconstitutional. The funding arrangements did leave something to be desired, since they were discretionary and not approved by parliament, which is really not a good way to go in a democracy where government spending should be scrutinised and passed by the elected representatives of the people. For the moment, let’s not read into this more than is there.

  • Thanks Mark. Of course it is not quite the sweetness and light that you and others seem to imply. While one extreme is to see a demon under every bed (or in every court ruling), the other extreme is to naively believe there is complete objectivity and neutrality on the part of our rulers and judges. Christians believe there are principalities and powers actively arrayed and working against Christ and his church, and these powers are not at all absent from the ruling power structures of the day. One danger for believers is to be lulled to sleep with words of ‘peace, peace’ when there is no peace. Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom, and this ruling is more than just some mere minuscule technical ruling, but may in fact go much deeper, and have more far-reaching ramifications. Time will tell.

  • Bill, there is so much tangled up in this one ruling:
    a) misotheism of Mr Williams who is endeavouring to remove Christian chaplains from all public schools
    b) the Constitutionality of the particular federal spending on the chaplaincy program
    c) the propriety of the enabling legislation which the High Court has struck down, as an indicator of the loss of freedoms we have permitted to occur
    d) the general principle of Parliamentary appropriation
    e) fiscal imbalance between levels of government
    f) the value of chaplaincy per se
    g) the proper spheres of government as per God’s mandate in the Bible
    h) the concept of a multi-cultural Australia and the supposed moral equivalence of all faiths/cultures
    i) the tension/hostility between government and the church and questions of the “separation of church and state” so-called
    j) the weakness of the church which does not see a danger in becoming dependant upon government funding
    k) the possibility, not canvassed so far here, of chaplaincy from other faith streams (eg. Middle Eastern or native sources)

    Sorry but I shall have to return to this because other duties call me away more urgently.

  • John,

    You are spot on. There is so much tied up in this event, and we need to engage in some clear thinking about the issues. What does the Bible teach concerning God’s perspective on each of these matters?

    I would be very interested in reading the conclusion to your comments above.

    Thanks, Bill, for the stimulating discussion starter.

    God bless,

    Lance A Box

  • Lance, taking just a couple of things, and leaving aside media beat-ups bias and faulty headlines:
    a) Constitutionality of the chaplaincy program
    Mr Williams was challenging the existence of Christian chaplaincy programs in public schools, and as is typical with a High Court case, he took as many arguments as he could into the court.

    (This is fair enough for the sake of completeness and efficiency. Too many test cases are unhelpful because there is not enough material for their honours to make a useful judgement).

    The Court did not declare chaplaincy or religious chaplaincy in public schools unConstitutional (in Mr Williams’ 2012 challenge they said “funding model aside, there is no constitutional problem with chaplains serving in government schools.”).
    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-06-19/high-court-delivers-verdict-on-school-chaplaincy-program/5534546

    The entire article focuses on the funding aspect. Note also that various States assisted Mr Williams in the case, because they saw the attack on Federalism identified by bodies such as the IPA.

    What this decision means is that the particular legislation has been struck down, and that is probably a good thing – Australia dodged a bullet and should thank Mr Williams. See IPA’s 2009 view on the Act here: https://ipa.org.au/news/2695/democracy-sidelined-in-panic-over-chaplains

    The government’s hasty solution is a piece of legislation that completely usurps Parliament’s power to approve public spending. It is radical, unnecessary, excessive and unprecedented.

    The act lists 415 programs for which the Commonwealth may elect to spend money at any time. Some of these ”programs” include ”sport and recreation”, ”domestic policy”, ”payments to international organisations” and the ominous ”electorate and ministerial support costs and parliamentary entitlements support costs”.

    Neither the previous Labor government nor the then Opposition come out smelling like roses over that!

    And this week is apparently the 799th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta. Ironic, isn’t it – battles for freedom are ever necessary.

  • The chaplaincy program as it stands, in government school settings, is nothing like the old scenario of volunteers from local churches taking regular Scripture lessons in schools. Nor can it be anything like the old ISCF lunchtime meetings of my high school days where the motto was: “To know Christ and to make Him known.”.

    There are always “strings” attached to government funding, no matter how much educational equity and parental choice are watchwords of government policies in the education funding debate.

    Once, state-funded, compulsory, universal education was unheard of: Education was primarily the work of established churches. How the ideological pendulum has swung to the opposite “apogee”! Secularism and New Age philosophies now dominate the educational sector!

  • Isn’t it interesting that while certain people fret about “the needs of LGBTI young people” nobody gives a hoot about the needs of straight young people under attack by the homosexualists.

    Remember the Victorian campaign advising teenagers to “try” homosexuality if they weren’t sure of their sexual orientation? How depraved it that?

    Why on earth should there be any concern about teenagers’ sexuality? They should be focussing on memorizing the solution to a quadratic equation or their foreign language vocabulary lists instead of being encouraged to fret about their sexuality.

    I bet that the Asian teenagers blitzing Australia academically don’t spend any time of this sexual orientation nonsense. Sex is for marriage. End of story for any healthy society.

  • John Wigg, you said:

    “Once, state-funded, compulsory, universal education was unheard of: Education was primarily the work of established churches. How the ideological pendulum has swung to the opposite “apogee”! Secularism and New Age philosophies now dominate the educational sector!”

    More likely it was regarded as a family responsibility, with church-based teaching non-compulsory for those who could not do it themselves.

    These days it’s called homeschooling or home-based education. Then it was simply “raising the children to understand God, life and the Scriptures”.

  • SU Qld chaplains have just this week completed their annual conference on the Sunshine Coast. One of their electives was given by an openly-gay woman (their Family and Youth worker) from Open Doors – a secular group (not Bro Andrew’s well-known Christian group) http://www.opendoors.net.au/?page_id=296
    This does not reflect a change in SU’s beliefs and policies, I was told today on good authority.
    So now we know.

  • Thanks for that Brenda. Sounds like the rot has well and truly set in already.

  • Hi Brenda,
    I still stand by my comments 19/6/2014 above. The rot started when the Church willingly accepted state-collected funds for Christ’s work. The Church must fund its own work (tithes and offerings), not keep expecting the state to fund it.

    That which is Caesar’s is Caesar’s, and that which is God’s is God’s. I think about Anglicare, Baptistcare, Catholiccare, Salvation Army, etc., etc. – good intensions spoiled by state financing (try preaching the message of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ whilst administering state-funded welfare, and see what response you get from those who are demanding public accountability – I tried it when I worked for one of these organisations, and I did not get very far. In fact I no longer work for them 😉 ). You cannot remain true to the Gospel if the money that you use in the name of the Gospel, has been forcefully taken from unbelievers (if you don’t think it has been forcefully taken, try not paying taxes and see what happens).

    State-funded Chaplaincy was a good idea, but it was not God’s idea, and that is the problem. IMHO.

  • After ‘re-education’ (by a gay man from a LGBT organisation) of Troy Williams (the Tasmanian SU chappie who unwisely quoted the lesbian Camille Paglia on his facebook recently) – they (SUTas) have now sacked him! We should pray that this will be a new and effective start for him in speaking out boldly for Biblical truth, now that he has been ‘released’ to do so!

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