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'Jesus is a person, not just a swear word': video promotes chaplains in schools funding

A video aimed at raising community support for religious instruction in state schools, made by its main provider, Access Ministries, has sparked heated discussion after being posted on YouTube.

The video – hosted by Access Ministries CEO Dr Evonne Paddison – has fuelled debate on social media about religious education and the school chaplaincy program. 

In the two-and-a-half-minute video, Dr Paddison argues: ‘‘[children] deserve to know that Jesus is a person, not just a swear word’’

Despite an Essential Poll this week finding just 5 per cent of Australians support the Abbott Government’s decision to fund only religious chaplains in non-religious schools, Paddison urged viewers to sign a petition in its support.

The video features a Christian chaplain called Brett Cardwell, who says: ‘‘If you’ve got a heart for children, you need to support chaplaincy. Without chaplaincy, where would [the children] go? Who can they talk to?’’


Paddison opens the video by saying, ‘‘I can’t imagine an Australia where ‘Jesus’ is just a word people use when they swear.’’

Later, when urging viewers to sign the petition, she says: ‘‘Let it be known that our children deserve the care of a chaplain – and they deserve to know that Jesus is a person, not just a swear word.’’

Paddison also speaks of ‘‘media attacks’’, saying ‘‘some sections of the media seem to make taking [Christian religious education] away from kids a key news priority.’’

She then refers to ‘‘yet another High Court challenge to the program’’. (There have been two.)

The video sparked heated discussion after it was posted on YouTube yesterday by Fairness in Religion in Schools. 

Lara Wood, a campaign co-ordinator for the group, said that stating Christian beliefs as fact – including stating that Jesus is real – constitutes proselytizing. 

‘‘Children take things like that literally, especially five-year-olds,’’ Ms Wood said. 

‘‘There’s a volunteer agreement drawn up between Access and the Department of Education that forbids statements like that – and they breach it all the time.’’

The agreement instructs volunteers to "avoid using language which presents faith-based statements as factual assertions rather than belief". 

But Access Ministries acting CEO Dawn Penney told Fairfax Media: ‘‘The reality of Jesus is central to Christian faith ... to declare this belief, which is held to be true by over two billion people across the planet is not proselytizing. It is sharing what we believe.’’

Ms Penney said that if her volunteers were allowed to share the tenets of their faith but leave out Jesus, ‘‘what is left’’?

But critics of this type of religious instruction argue state school students should be taught about all religions, not just Christianity, and by qualified teachers instead of volunteers.

Fairfax Media reported on Saturday that Access Ministries threatened FIRIS with legal action after the group posted Access's religious teaching materials online.