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The High Court found that religious chaplains in government schools does not breach the constitution’s separation of church and state clause (section 116) because chaplains are not government employees, but contractors who actually work for scripture unions like SU QLD.

However, it’s possible for something to be constitutionally legal while still being philosophically intolerable.

Not every taxpayer is a Christian, or indeed, a religious person. Yet their taxes are paying for a religious job. Is this a breach of the principle of separation of church and state? Shouldn’t the government only provide a service that is common with all?

To turn the tables on Christian advocates for Christian chaplains, how would they feel about having a Muslim chaplain in their state school? If Christians wouldn’t appreciate their taxes going to a religious, non-Christian position, shouldn’t the state simply avoid all this displeasure and fund the lowest common denominator (secular psychiatrists) instead of favouring one religious chaplain over another?

Not at all.

First of all, if the community can provide and support a Muslim chaplain, the school wants him or her, and the kids can relate to him or her, then of course the school should have a Muslim chaplain. The community would be providing the solution to their needs that they want.

Exactly, one friend said to me. The community should be meeting those needs, not the state.

I agree that ideally, the community should own their chaplains, and the best way for that to happen is for them to fund them entirely. But many communities do not have the money to make that possible. Therefore, if we are to have chaplains, the broader, national, community must assist through tax money.

But if the state needs to fund chaplains, then shouldn’t they fund something generic and common to all taxpayers, instead of taking the Christian, Muslim and atheist taxpayers’ money to fund a particular religious person? My friend referred to this as the lowest common denominator.

The problem here is that you can’t find any useful common denominator that all taxpayers share. The only thing we all have in common is our humanity. I believe in a Christian God, my neighbour is a materialist, the local grocer believes in New Age spiritualism, the big-city psychiatrist preaches evolutionary psychology and my grandmother thinks that’s all nonsense.  The reality is that there is no sort of chaplain or psychiatrist or any other position that would not contradict some voter’s view.

Why must my taxes go to pay a psychiatrist with a secular, behaviourist worldview? Why is that any better than an atheist’s money going to a chaplain with Christian beliefs? In both cases, a taxpayer ends up funding someone with a different belief.

And in fact, that is not outrageous. Liberal party voters’ tax money is spent on green jobs, pink batts, the National Broadband network, advertising the carbon tax and all sorts of other policy initiatives that those voter strenuously disagree with. It’s the nature of democracy that we contribute to a society where we disagree with decisions that others made happen. It’s impossible for a collective community to co-operate any other way, and that rule should be applied to the schoolroom as well. 

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