THE search is on for a new Catholic chaplain for Glasgow Caledonian University after the previous incumbent, Father Mark Morris, held a service to atone for the “gross offence to God” that was Glasgow Pride.

Principal Pamela Gillies has stated that the priest’s views “are antithetical to those held by the university, which is strongly inclusive”. Problem addressed, move along, nothing more to see here. Right?

But wait just a minute. Up until Monday were those in charge of the university – who it’s safe to assume are a clever and thoughtful bunch – naive enough to imagine the views of this priest aligned with those of the university? And if not, where should the line be drawn when it comes to educational institutions promoting religious views?

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Glasgow Caledonian would doubtless claim is does not promote or privilege one religion over another as it has a multi-faith team of chaplains including rabbis, a Buddhist monk and a humanist celebrant. But while some of these have regular gigs on university grounds, others are available by appointment only, and provide pastoral support to students all over the country. There is a difference, surely, between preaching hate on campus and doing so elsewhere, but if an institution is endorsing a person of faith, does it not have a responsibility to check what messages are being delivered? And if that isn’t practical or realistic, is there actually any need to have chaplains at all?

Perhaps in decades past those starting at university required help connecting with local religious groups, but in the 21st century this signposting seems quite unnecessary. Students can easily type a few words into Google Maps then venture off campus to find a church, chapel, mosque, gurdwara or any other place of worship. They might also be able to join faith-based university groups and societies, should there be enough like-minded students to sustain them.

Glasgow Caledonian is a new university, but in the 25 years since its establishment, times have changed. The privileging of religion in public life is increasingly being challenged and not, as many seem to believe, in an attempt to stamp out belief. Indeed, those who defend religion’s special status – whether in the form of religious observance in schools, laws around marriage, or the appointment of chaplains – themselves demonstrate a lack of confidence in their own faiths.

Surely if a particular belief system has merit, it will endure without the need for any form of indoctrination or state promotion? Parents will still be able to take their children to places of worship, read them scriptures or religious stories, buy them religious clothing and accessories and otherwise encourage them to believe.

If all of that isn’t enough to persuade a young person to identify as a religious adult, might that be an indication that some manmade religions are simply not compatible with critical thinking and progressive values?

Much is made of the malign influence of “militant atheists”, so-called not because they are violent but because they have the audacity to express their views with the same force as religious people who are not used to having competition. But no atheist has ever stood at the end of my street with a microphone and amp, bellowing to me and my neighbours about where we are headed after death. I’ve never seen any atheists competing for airtime with the roaring evangelists on Glasgow’s Buchanan Street, or trying to engage harassed office workers with questions about happiness.

When Scottish hospitals made the switch to multi-faith chaplains, reflecting the increasing religious diversity of our society, some Christians were unhappy. The director of Christian charity CARE for Scotland told the Daily Mail: “It’s hardly surprising, given the aggressive rise in secularisation that has been so evident here in Scotland, with Christianity increasingly being squeezed out of the public square.”

Meanwhile, the Catholic Church emphasised that a one-size-fits-all approach would not do, as some religious functions could only be carried out by a priest. What its spokesman failed to mention was that NHS Scotland was already paying extra for priests to carry out sacraments such as the last rites – to the tune of £600,000 per year according to a 2014 freedom of information response obtained by The Herald.

Against an overall budget of around £12 billion, perhaps £600,000 seems like a drop in the ocean. But taking into account the global wealth of the Catholic Church, some might consider it obscene that taxpayers of all faiths and none are being billed for this. No-one is suggesting anyone should be denied the last rites – undoubtedly this ceremony brings a great deal of comfort to many patients and their families – but is it too much to expect the faithful to have a whip-round to cover the taxi fares of the on-call priest?

The money saved by the NHS could be spent on nurses who are trained to provide both pastoral care and medical treatment to each and every patient. Meanwhile, the time spent by universities on recruiting chaplains with palatable views would be better spent promoting equality of opportunity and a positive educational experience for each and every student.