www.stopthenscp.org lodges a complaint about religious discrimination in the NSCP with the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission
Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission
Sydney NSW 2000
The Commonwealth through the operation of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Act 1986 (the HREOC Act) is committed to ending discrimination on the basis of religion.
The National Schools Chaplaincy Program (NSCP) was announced in October 2006 by John Howard and provides $90 million of Commonwealth funding over three years for school chaplains. It is administered by the Department of Education, Science and Training. The NSCP is in conflict with these commitments as it discriminates on the basis of religion, particularly but not exclusively, against the non-religious. This is contrary to the Commonwealth's obligations under the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Declaration on the Elimination of all Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination based on Religion or Belief which are incorporated into Australian Law under the HREOC Act.
The considerations that form the basis for this complaint against the Commonwealth for religious discrimination are set out forthwith. The HREOC web site states that "for an action to constitute a breach of a person's human rights under the Act two requirements must be met, the organisation against which you are complaining must be the Commonwealth or one of its agencies and, the action you are complaining about must breach a right or infringe a freedom recognised in the international human rights instruments scheduled to or declared under the Act." (Information Sheet, Know Your Rights: The Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission Act )
• UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966 (ICCPR)
All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. (ICCPR)"
Fundamentally the NSCP says that we are not all equal in the eyes of the law. It asserts that there is a type of person, namely the religious, who are particularly suited to the task of helping children through being a school chaplain. This program is going to fund these people and the non-religious need not apply. It does not matter if a person is an expert on child welfare and/or development, with years of practical experience or advanced qualifications. If they are not religious they will not be funded.
The particular qualifications, skills and experience for the job of chaplain are not specified or explained in the guidelines and there are no formal educational or work experience requirements. It is merely asserted in the guidelines that the person be recognised as "an appropriate appointee and as having the skills and experience to deliver school chaplaincy services to school communities; and through formal ordainment, commissioning, recognised qualifications or endorsement by a recognised religious institution." The requirement is merely that the "local school community including the principal, parent body and/or school's governing body" recognise you as suitable and that you at least be "endorsed" by a religious institution.
Such imprecision in the requirements of a position dealing with students and the expenditure of taxpayer funds should not be tolerated. In other areas of employment specific job descriptions are used, and candidates are judged on their suitability against selection criteria.
The tasks which a chaplain will perform are as vague as the job requirements and the selection criteria, namely to "assist schools and their communities through providing greater pastoral care, general religious and personal advice and comfort to all students and staff". The body of the guidelines does elaborate somewhat, but much of what is described is contradictory. The program is internally inconsistent in that it requires chaplains to be religious, yet to put aside this religiousness in delivering services. In reality, the chaplains will be promoting religion to students and will be conducting religious services in school time and at school premises with students and staff, an activity which is acceptable under the guidelines. As the Scripture Union who provide chaplains to schools state, "we aim to follow Biblical principles in all that we do and to emphasise the vital importance of prayer". For more detail on what Chaplains are actually doing in schools see the Scripture Union job description. When asked the Prime Minister was vague about who chaplains are and what they do, but was adamant that they would need to be religious:
JOURNALIST: Mr Howard, you're calling them chaplains rather than counsellors…
PRIME MINISTER: Yes I am calling them chaplains because that has a particular connotation in our language, and as you know, I am not ever overwhelmed by political correctness. To call a chaplain a counsellor is to bow to political correctness. Chaplain has a particular connotation. People understand it, they know exactly what I am talking about. If a particular school with a non-Christian affiliation thinks the word chaplain is unsuitable and would like to call them, you know for want of a better expression ‘lay Rabbi' that's fine by me. But for generic purposes, it's a Chaplaincy Program.
JOURNALIST: Would you expect them to be people of faith though….
PRIME MINISTER: Oh yes... (Doorstop interview 29/10/06 )
In the Commonwealth Government through the NSCP is engaging in religious discrimination in breach of Article 26 of ICCPR because the program is only open to the religious, and as such under the program all people are not equal "before the law".
• Declaration on the Elimination of all Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination based on Religion or Belief 1981 (Religion Declaration)
The Religion Declaration deals specifically with discrimination based on religion. It states:
1. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have a religion or whatever belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.
1. No one shall be subject to discrimination by any State, institution, group of persons, or person on the grounds of religion or other belief.
2. For the purposes of the present Declaration, the expression "intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief" means any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on religion or belief and having as its purpose or as its effect nullification or impairment of the recognition, enjoyment or exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms on an equal basis
1. All States shall take effective measures to prevent and eliminate discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief in the recognition, exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms in all fields of civil, economic, political, social and cultural life."
As explained above with regard to the ICCPR, the Commonwealth is discriminating against the non-religious on the basis of religion, as the NSCP is not open to the non-religious. The NSCP is an "exclusion" from access to Government funding, its effect being a "nullification" of the "exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms", namely access to taxpayer funded Commonwealth Government programs "on an equal basis".
The consequence of the program is that in terms of government funding for education in Australia , those who are not religious or whose religion is judged to be unacceptable or outside the mainstream by the Minister will not all fields of civil, economic, political, social and cultural life be treated as equals.
To illustrate the issues in another way, imagine if the Government said that there was a program it wished to promote and fund to assist with student welfare. However, in this case funding was only to be available to non-religious applicants. Further, the government offered no justification for this exclusion. There would be an enormous outcry from religious bodies that the program was unfairly discriminating against them. This is precisely why the NSCP is discriminatory and unacceptable.
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