Big Win for Secularism in Australia

The United States is not the only country that has controversies over separation of church and state. Australia has had many of them lately and the highest court in that country last week overturned a law that provided national funding for chaplaincies in public schools.

An Australian atheist campaigning to keep religion out of the education system won his second victory Thursday when the nation’s highest court ruled that it is unconstitutional for the federal government to fund a program that provides chaplains to schools.

Ron Williams began his legal battle against the multimillion-dollar program after his 6-year-old son came home from Darling Heights State School in Toowoomba city in Queensland state singing gospel songs in 2010.

Williams won in 2012 when the High Court ruled that the government had exceeded its constitutional powers by funding the program, which began in around 2,700 schools five years earlier.

The government kept the program going by amending federal legislation to address the court’s ruling. But five High Court judges on Thursday unanimously agreed with Williams that the federal funding of chaplain contractor Scripture Union Queensland remained unconstitutional despite the law change.

Unfortunately, there appears to be a fairly obvious workaround that would allow the same program to continue by other means:

Sydney University constitutional lawyer Anne Twomey said the government could fund the program safe from legal challenge through the states with tied grants, instead of paying the chaplain providers directly.

“They could have always done this stuff through the states under grants; they chose to do these things by direct methods and one of the reasons they did that in the past was to get directly the political kudos that come from it,” she said.

It shouldn’t be there at all, no matter how it’s funded.

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  • colnago80

    In other legal news, the 10th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals upheld the District Court decision in Utah overturning the state’s ban on same sex marriage. In addition, a District Court judge in Indiana ruled that state’s ban on same sex marriage unconstitutional. The folks at NOM must be chewing the rug.

  • Really? Saudi Arabia in on *this* council? What a joke.

  • natashatasha

    Separation of church and state in Australian constitutional law is very narrowly defined, preventing the Federal government from doing this sort of thing. The states, on the other hand, can just do what they like, and there’s nothing stopping the crown giving them money for it.

  • tubi


    The folks at NOM must be chewing the rug.

    I see what you did there…