Christian knaves and government fools


If I had a euro for each time I am left gasping at the naivety and sheer stupidity of gov-ernment officials when it comes to religion, it would take a team of weightlifters to bundle my outsized piggy bank into a security van.

Take, for example, a row that has broken out in Australia over a Christian outfit which receives taxpayers' cash by the bucket-load to provide religious instruction to children via an extensive schools chaplaincy programme.

Access Ministries last month stood accused of trying to convert kids to Christianity after its Chief Executive Evonne Paddison told the Evangelical Fellowship in the Anglican Communion national conference in Melbourne: "In Australia, we have a God-given open door to children and young people with the Gospel. Our federal and state governments allow us to take the Christian faith into our schools and share it. We need to go and make disciples."

Government officials and educationalists then expressed surprise and dismay that AM should want to enter schools to embark on possible conversion campaigns.

Paddison's "God-given open door" spiel rather let the cat out of the bag. It was a bit of gloating triumphalism that basically said: "Hey guys, we've succeeded in pulling the wool over gullible officials' eyes so effectively that they are now even throwing big bucks at us."

Not surprisingly, Paddison finally got rum-bled - though it took three years before concerned parties sat up and took notice of the contents of her speech. Reservations were then voiced when it became clear that AM had gleefully charged though the "open door" and reportedly began breaking guidelines.

But what on earth did officials expect AM to do? Provide salsa lessons with a spiritual twist?

It's the very nature of the beast to evangelise, and former NSW Labour Premier Bob Carr hit the nail squarely on the head when he said: "There is enough feedback now to show that, quite understandably, chaplains cannot confine their activism. Evangelical work is their lifeblood and it's naive to expect them not to pursue it around young people. They can't because of their training. They can't approach these matters from any other perspective. As a result we have got breaches of what should be a very thick wall between church and state."

Carr went further, and demanded that school chaplaincy programmes should be immediately scrapped to prevent religious meddling in state schools. "It is indefensible that all taxpayers are required to support a programme that is gradually becoming church evangelism."

He also attacked atheist Julia Gillard's ad-ministration for extending the scheme, saying it compromised separation between church and state. Carr said the money would be better spent on increasing teacher numbers.

So, how much dough are we talking about? Victoria's government announced an extra A$200,000 a year to AM in last month's budget to fund 196 chaplains. This brings the total state government contribution to A$500,000 a year for four years.

Meanwhile, the national school chaplaincy programme, introduced by the Howard government, received a A$222-million boost in last month's federal budget to fund chaplains for up to 3,700 schools by 2014.

That's a heck of a lot of dosh to fund tosh.

Still, officials naively believe that they can let these scoundrels waltz into schools without guidelines being breached. Schools Minister Peter Garrett said he would look closely at Dr Paddison's remarks and that he would ask his department for advice on any action that might need to be taken. He said: "The guidelines for the National School Chap-laincy Programme are very clear; any breach of those guidelines will be investigated. If there is any evidence of a breach it should be referred to the department for investigation."

And Education Minister Martin Dixon said the Government did not "in any way, shape or form condone proselytising. We will be talking to AM and seeking an assurance from them that their instructors abide by this requirement."

Oh, come on! That's like asking a bull to carefully tread on hooftips around the goods in a china shop.

Even AM itself admits that it is "difficult" to draw a distinction between religious education and proselytising. While AM Chairman Bishop Stephen Hale flatly denied that AM was a proselytising outfit, he added that teaching children Christian stories and "values" without pressuring them to adopt Christianity was "a pretty tricky exercise". "Tricky"? Downright bloody impossible more like.

Hale pointed out that teachers remained in classrooms during religious instruction and if guidelines had been breached there would surely have been more complaints.

Victoria's branch President of the Australian Education Union, Mary Bluett, agreed that most volunteers appeared to adhere to the guidelines, but there had been some shock-ing breaches. "Comments such as 'Buddha is Satan's friend' and things like that clearly breach the guidelines," she said. Bluett sensibly added that religious instruction should be offered outside of school hours.

Incidentally, a week earlier the lunacy of AM was exposed when it began distributing an obnoxious comic strip regarding bullying in schools. The strip suggested that victims should not report bullying incidents to "indifferent" or "callous" teachers, but to turn instead to God for help, and everything would turn out just fine and dandy.

The outrage that followed forced AM to hastily withdraw it, and to issue a grovelling apology for any "damage or emotional distress" that the strip may have caused.

This alone should have resulted in AM having all its funding summarily axed. But no! Officials still stubbornly cling to the barmy notion that outfits such as AM can be induced to follow an "acceptable" path and behave in a socially responsible manner.

What frightful fools they are!



From The Freethinker (Brighton, Sussex), June 2011: 2.