BREAKING NEWS! AUSTRALIAN SCHOOLS CHAPLAINCY PROGRAM IS “CONSTITUTIONALLY INVALID” – HIGH COURT!

Those of you who attended the Global Atheist Convention (or have been following the news about the ongoing issue in general) may recall Leslie Cannold’s request from the stage, for people to join the Facebook group for Australians for Separation of Church and State and donate to Ron Williams, who started the Ron Williams Vs Commonwealth of Australia, a High Court challenge to the National School Chaplaincy Program:

Williams’s desire is simple – to pull the plug on the program that, through “chaplaincy service providers” such as Scripture Union (“Christ’s ambassadors on the front line of ministry”) and Access Ministries (“transform[ing] this nation for God”), is feverishly trying to spend the $437 million of Commonwealth funds to put a chaplain in all the nation’s schools.

He didn’t win on both grounds that he challenged the scheme on – but it was enough. To quote Peter Black from Twitter:

the high court’s reasons in williams v commonwealth have nothing to do with the separation between church and state (s 116)… rather williams v commonwealth is a technical judgment on the scope of the executive power under s 61 of the constitution. 

Chaplaincy program is ‘constitutionally invalid’: High Court (Sydney Morning Herald):

Mr Williams, a father of four from Toowoomba, challenged the scheme on two grounds: that it violated religious freedom protections in the constitution, and exceeded Commonwealth funding powers.

….the court found that school chaplains were not Commonwealth employees, but rather were engaged by an external organisation, Scripture Union Queensland, and the Commonwealth did not enter into contractual or other arrangements with the chaplains.

But by majority the court held that the funding agreement between chaplaincy provider Scripture Union Queensland and the Commonwealth was invalid because it was beyond the executive power of the Commonwealth.

News is still ongoing; I recommend keeping an eye on Leslie Cannold’s Tweet stream for more news as it happens. A good summary of the case has been previously given by Leslie in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Edit: High Court school chaplains case now published – 217 pages and 73,000 words

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About Kylie Sturgess

Kylie Sturgess is a Philosophy teacher, media and psychology student, blogger at Patheos and podcaster at Token Skeptic. She has conducted over a hundred interviews including artists, scientists, politicians and activists, worldwide.
She’s the author of the ‘Curiouser and Curiouser‘ column at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry website and travels internationally lecturing on feminism, skepticism, and science.


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