The school chaplains program has been labelled discriminatory in a test case against rules requiring pastoral care workers to be connected to organised religion. Source: The Guardian.
In a case that could have significant repercussions on the federally funded program, the requirement that potential employees of Access Ministries, one of the groups that provides pastoral care, must be Christian will be challenged in the Victorian civil and administrative tribunal (VCAT).
The VCAT complaint takes the case of a candidate who had worked as a chaplain in three other schools, including a Catholic school, and was barred from applying from primary school positions because she was not Christian.
The complaint claims Access Ministries is an employer that has advertised employment opportunities, but has discriminated against a potential employee because of her lack of religion.
“The discrimination is not reasonably necessary for Access Ministries to comply with the doctrines, beliefs or principles of the religion associated with Access Ministries, because the work of a school chaplain takes place in a non-religious context and workplace, namely a government school, with a student population made up of students with a variety of religious affiliations and with no religious affiliation,” the complaint reads.
“The work of a school chaplain is non-religious. As Justice Heydon explained in Williams v Commonwealth the work described could have been done by persons who met a religious test. It could equally have been done by persons who did not.”
The Victorian Department of Education and Training is also named in the complaint as having “requested, instructed, induced, encouraged, authorised or assisted” Access Ministries, which applied the employment criteria.
Vcat is being asked to make a finding that will stop potential applicants for the chaplaincy program from being discriminated against, based on their religion, or lack thereof.
The chaplains program was a Howard government initiative and was continued by subsequent Labor governments, and then given almost $250 million to continue in former prime minister Tony Abbott’s first budget in 2014. The most recent budget extended the program with another $250m over four years.