It may not have been the most significant decision made by former Prime Minister John Howard but, after 10 years, the public school chaplaincy program he introduced still makes a difference in the lives of 2000 students each week. Mr Howard knows this because he sat in the front row at the Museum of Sydney as chaplain after chaplain told stories of lives changed and prospects made brighter by their work. From the young student anxious over the possibility that her mother’s cancer might return, to the older boy who wanted to gain a place in a selective school in order to get a good job and support his struggling family.
A public school principal told how the chaplaincy program “adds soul to our school” and that, aside from supporting the students, the chaplain had now organised fathers into a group to encourage each other to be better parents. Almost all the fathers in the school, in Sydney’s south, were involved. These good news stories were shared at the tenth-anniversary celebration of the chaplaincy program. On hand were representatives of several providers, including Generate Ministries, which is the largest provider of chaplains in NSW state schools with more than 220 positions.
Generate’s general manager James Flavin quoted the words Mr Howard used as he unveiled the scheme: “Chaplains will be expected to provide pastoral care, general religious and personal advice, and comfort and support to all students and staff, irrespective of their religious beliefs. A chaplain might support school students and the wider school community in a range of ways, such as assisting students in exploring their spirituality; providing guidance on religious, values and ethical matters; helping school counsellors and staff in offering welfare services and support in cases of bereavement, family breakdown or other crisis and loss situations”.
Added Mr Flavin: “From what we have heard this morning, Mr Howard’s words were definitely prophetic. This is a very popular program, with the last funding round oversubscribed by 200 schools. I think we can all agree that the Government receives excellent value for the $5 million it spends on these 400 or so chaplaincies.” The former PM was clearly delighted by the stories of the good work chaplains have been doing. “Today is a celebration of something that was sneered at, at the time,” Mr Howard said. “It was labelled as an invasion of the separation of church and state but in reality, it was fulfilling an increasingly growing need within our community.
“We all are conscious of the terrible impact on young lives of violence in the environment in which they live, of family breakdown, of the inability of a family, because of its dysfunction, to cope with sudden tragedy and loss.hile I acknowledge and I was very happy to emphasise at the time the program was introduced, that it was not to be a vehicle for overt proselytisation, clearly the driving force behind this program and its great success has been the spiritual commitment of individuals.”
The former PM said the value of chaplaincy work needed to be stressed to governments. “The best thing I heard this morning was that there was an oversubscription of 200,” he said. “In other words, more and more people want chaplains and the greatest weapon in defence of the program, against those who might try and withdraw it or cripple it or reduce it or weaken it, is the evident need. If communities want this program, in the end, can I tell you that governments will keep it.”
The NSW government will dump a contentious sex education course for senior high school students that teaches radical theories about gender and sexuality. Instead, classroom time currently devoted to the Crossroads curriculum is likely to be spent teaching Year 11 and 12 state school students how to drive a car, manage their finances and improve their mental health. The imminent scrapping of Crossroads, which presents gender as a social construct and sexuality as constantly changing, was flagged by Education Minister Rob Stokes after a departmental review urged closer scrutiny of sex education materials and greater oversight by school principals.
The review was conducted by William Louden, former dean of education at the University of Western Australia, who also led the federal government’s review of the controversial Safe Schools program. Mr Stokes said he would adopt all Mr Louden’s recommendations. “This report has led to a broader discussion about the relevance of the Crossroads curriculum in its present form and whether there may be better ways to use the 25 hours of classroom time involved,” Mr Stokes said. “The Department of Education is undertaking a rethink of the program to ensure a focus on practical skills that young adults need for life outside school.
“These include topics such as basic financial services literacy including use of credit cards and consumer protection laws, mental health, domestic violence, drug education and safe driving skills.” The Louden review, prompted by revelations that state schools in NSW are using teaching resources which promote gender as a “non-binary” continuum and encourage teachers to “de-gender” their classrooms, found most activities associated with the sex education curriculum were age appropriate. However, the review identified some resources as being not suitable for all students including a Year 7 and Year 8 unit titled “Exploring Sexual Risk” which included “medically accurate but explicit material on sexual practices and the risks of infection”.
Another lesson titled “Generation XXX”, introduced students to hypothetical scenarios involving pornography and sexting. In one scenario, a young person called Sam is pressured by a partner to try “the type of sex that is common in pornography” and “looks like it would be painful, and certainly not enjoyable”. The explicit nature of some of the material “would be uncomfortable or unfamiliar for some students”, the review found. One of Mr Louden’s recommendations, contained in a 47-page report, is for the department to reconsider its role in developing curriculum support materials, including lesson plans, given the contentious nature of the topic.
The Louden review examined the research and scientific basis of sex education material, in particular the Crossroads program and the Teacher Toolbox, a 17-page resource for delivering content relating to sex, sexuality and gender diversity. As part of the Crossroads curriculum, students are provided a handout titled “The Genderbread Person”, an infographic developed by US comedian and social justice advocate Sam Kellerman. Students are told they can identify as a “woman, man, two-spirit, genderqueer or genderless” among the “infinite possibilities” of gender identity. Mr Stokes’s move to ditch the Crossroads curriculum follows a decision by both the NSW and federal governments to withdraw support for Safe Schools, a nominal, anti-bullying program embedded with radical theories about sex and gender.
What is likely to be a long struggle to re-establish freedom of speech and religion has begun. Despite the urging of a former Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, the Turnbull Government allowed a bill with no protection for freedom of speech and little protection for freedom of religion to become law. This was the end result of the marriage plebiscite as it played out in the Parliament. People who wish to speak publicly about marriage being exclusively between one man and one woman now risk being fined for bigotry. Even before the law changed, a prominent leader of the same-sex marriage movement, Rodney Croome, called for legal action to be taken against Catholic Archbishop Julian Porteous.
Diversity officers tapped people working in big companies and an 18-year-old girl was sacked. Their crimes? They believed marriage was man woman. But in this new environment they are deemed to be bigots who should be punished. In its haste to legislate same-sex marriage before Christmas, the government kicked the can of free speech and freedom of religion down the road to a review by former MP Philip Ruddock. With most MPs and Senators rejecting the reasonable accommodations for diversity of belief about marriage put forward in a bill sponsored by Senator James Paterson, precious freedoms have now been lost.
As John Howard warned, freedom now risks being “stuck in the sand”. The Ruddock Review’s challenge is to put Humpty back together again. It is so important that you and I make our voices heard. Whether or not freedom is restored will come down to a decision of the Turnbull Government once it receives recommendations from the Ruddock review. It is vital that we speak up now. You do not have to write a long submission, but you should implore the review to allow freedom of expression about marriage to be restored in Australia. Thanks for taking action. Please share this on social media and encourage your friends to also make a submission. Our work is only just beginning.
Those wishing to make a submission may do so to:
(The last day for receipt of submissions is February 14th)
This annual day will be held this Saturday 10th February. We encourage our members to pray for our nation on that day. The following prayer points will hopefully assist in that regard.
* Give thanks for the rich Christian heritage of our nation.
* Cry out for a revival of faith amongst God’s people and for a return to Godly values in the year ahead.
* Pray for the raising up of professing and committed Christians into positions of leadership within our nation and for those already in positions of influence to be empowered afresh to stand strong in their faith to see significant change towards a restoration of the Christian faith as the foundation of our national life.
* Pray for a strong prophetic voice to emerge within the Church in Australia that will shed light on the path ahead for both Church and nation.