Way back in February 2011 I wrote about the efforts of Ron Williams to derail the national schools’ chaplaincy program. At issue is the nearly 1/2 billion dollars of public money handed out to the Scripture Union and Access Ministries, to embed their disciples in public schools. These disciples are known to be carriers of the now-famous reliobacter rationalbrianius germ, hence Ron’s concern for his children.
Ron took the the case to the High Court (the peak federal court in Australia), challenging both the right of the federal government to fund such things and also the church-state separation issue.
Well the decision has finally been handed down, and while the press has all been about how Ron Williams took on the system and won, I’m afraid he and his supporters will, on reflection, consider it a hollow victory.
The good news is that the High Court ruled (6-1) that the Commonwealth government did not have the constitutional right to make such payments, without the backing of legislation, which is the case for the chaplaincy program.
The bad news is three-fold: Firstly, the other proposition being tested, that public schools should not be a vehicle for the promotion of religion, was defeated. This is most unfortunate since in my mind it is the main game. Many, if not most, people want to send their children to school safe in the knowledge that they are not being infected with anything, other than a deep curiosity about the universe, and perhaps the ability to spell and add up a little bit.
Secondly, the federal government has been moved to re-affirm its spending on the chaplaincy program, regardless of the decision. In other words, they will find another way to make it happen, possible through new legislation, or, channel it through the states.
Thirdly, and most unexpectedly, the decision that this type of spending is unconstitutional has broader application than just the chaplaincy program. It may be that a lot of other very worthwhile programs may be cut or derailed as a result of this decision.
Brave attempt Ron, but if ever there was a time for a face-palm, or a Simpsonesque ‘Doh’, it’s now.
And I can just hear those jackals at the Scripture Union and Access Ministries cackling away.