A LABOR senator has expressed concern about the controversial national school chaplaincy program, happening in Australia, saying the idea of chaplains sharing their conservative views on homosexuality with children struggling with their sexuality scares him as a parent.
Gavin Marshall, the chairman of the Senate Education Committee, told an estimates hearing yesterday that the Scripture Union, which provides chaplains in Queensland, Tasmania and the ACT, held the ”harsh” view that ”homosexuals will burn in hell”.
Senator Marshall questioned why the organisation was allowed to take part in the program if it held such views.
”You see, that’s what scares me about this, as a parent.”
The Education Department secretary, Lisa Paul, said a chaplain who behaved in a ”homophobic” manner, would be in breach of program guidelines.
Ms Paul said what was important was not a chaplain’s beliefs, but what views they expressed in the course of their work.
The chief executive of Scripture Union Queensland, Tim Mander, said chaplains did not tell children what to think, but were there to listen and help them explore options.
”Chaplains treat all students with dignity and respect,” Mr Mander said.
The program was introduced by the Howard government in 2007. Before last year’s election Labor promised to extend funding for the 2681 schools in the program until the end of 2014, and to expand the program to up to 1000 more schools.
A government review of the program recently concluded and is with the School Education Minister, Peter Garrett.
The Australian Education Union has called for its abolition, saying it undermines the secular nature of public education, and psychologists have accused chaplains of dealing with mental health issues they are not qualified to treat.
The Commonwealth Ombudsman is investigating the program, which is also the subject of a High Court challenge, due to be heard in August.
Officials told yesterday’s hearing that 72 complaints had been made against individual chaplains, including allegations of proselytising and counselling. Chaplains are supposed to offer only pastoral care.