Media release: RSA calls for an end to religious discrimination in WA school chaplaincy

Meredith Doig / 20 April 2021

The Rationalist Society of Australia (RSA) is calling on Western Australia’s Education Minister Sue Ellery to put an end to the religious discrimination taking place in the recruitment process of chaplains in the state’s public school system.

RSA president Dr Meredith Doig OAM is urging Minister Ellery to take swift action in light of fresh concerns raised by Western Australia’s Equal Opportunity Commission about the current practice of restricting taxpayer-funded chaplaincy positions to Christians.

In a letter to the RSA, Commissioner John Byrne agreed with the suggestion that the hiring process for chaplaincy roles appeared to allow religious discrimination.

“I agree that under the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (the Act) such a selection criterion is prima facie religious conviction discrimination in the areas of employment and advertisements,” Mr Byrne wrote.

“Further, as the educational authority is the Department of Education, none of the Act’s religious exceptions that might be relied upon by a private educational institution apply.”

Earlier this year, the RSA wrote to the state’s Equal Opportunity Commission to point out that the selection criteria for taxpayer-funded chaplaincy roles being advertised were discriminating against non-Christians.

While the Department of Education does not itself directly advertise the positions, it contracts the external organisations that recruit the chaplains and sends them to work in the public school system.

Dr Doig says Western Australian taxpayers want to see youth workers appointed to roles within public schools based on qualifications, not religious beliefs.

“Western Australia’s Equal Opportunity Act makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person on the basis of religion in employment. Putting out job advertisements that say only Christians are eligible prima facie contravenes this rule,” she says.

“The Act also it makes it unlawful to cause, instruct, induce, aid or permit another person to engage in religious discrimination. So paying someone else to put out a job advertisement that says only Christians can apply also prima facie contravenes this rule.

“There is no justification for this conduct. Any trained youth worker – whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim or atheist – is perfectly capable of performing the role of chaplain.”

The RSA has asked the Western Australian Department of Education to outline the steps it would be taking to reform the school chaplains program to remove the religious discrimination, but it has not yet received a reply.

FOR MORE INFORMATION AND INTERVIEWS

Dr Meredith Doig OAM

0403 246 544

president@rationalist.com.au

www.rationalist.com.au

NOTES FOR EDITORS

The Rationalist Society of Australia (RSA) is the oldest freethought group in Australia, promoting reason since 1906. Members and supporters hold that all significant beliefs and actions should be based on reason and evidence, that the natural world is the only world there is, and that answers to the key questions of human existence are to be found only in that natural world.

The RSA, along with a number of freethought organisations, is supporting the #DontDivideUs campaign against the Religious Discrimination Bill.

Photo by Sam Balye (Unsplash)

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