Defend secular schools. A group of government parlamentarians recently proposed the establishment of a “National Schools Chaplaincy Program.” State schools, said one, are “anti-religious.” Oh, really? Which part of secular education don’t they understand? Naturally the reactionary Howard Government is “seriously considering” the proposal. Naturally, as part of the neoconservative agenda, they mean Christian chaplains, specifically evangelical recruiters of children. This is an outrageous attempt at indoctrination that has no place in government education.
Freedom from religion is an equal right to freedom of religion. Australians in general are strong supporters of a secular society. The overwhelming majority sees religion as a private matter. This is true of both atheists and those with religious beliefs. Separation of Church and State was a key victory of the great revolutionary movements that made capitalism itself possible. It’s one of the few democratic freedoms enshrined in the Australian Constitution, and as such it must be staunchly defended. Since 1958, the Victorian Education Act has made provision for school chaplains. Other states have similar legislation. This reflects the bland Christian monoculture of 50 years ago. All statutory provisions, which permit or fund religious activities in state schools, must be repealed now.
Arrogant and out of touch. For teachers and parents struggling to keep school budgets in the black, a particularly annoying part of the proposal is that the government wants a co-payment from schools for its missionary zeal. A chaplain costs about $70,000 a year. That’s $35,000 less available for buildings, equipment, student welfare and teachers. But that’s only half of the religious rort. There are over 7,000 public schools in Australia. The Federal Government can find, it seems, a quarter of a billion dollars for religious recruitment but can’t provide a guarantee that every student can get a desk, a roof and a teacher. Religion is a private matter – but only where it’s not used for political purposes. The ALP has come out in support of the proposal, in craven appeasement of the churches. Maybe our capitalist politicians should take note of the words of French philosopher, Denis Diderot: “[Hu]mankind shall not be free until the last king is strangled in the entrails of the last priest.”