Gallery gossip from the Mid-Winter Ball. National security oversight scrapped. High Court knocks out chaplains. Ten news gutted. Bob Ellis breaks into song at Carr’s book reading. SBS World Cup mic fail. SBY’s charm offensive in the Pacific. NSW Labor in email stuff-up. And matching exclusives for the SMH and Oz?
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“Providing at a school the services of a chaplain or welfare worker … is not a provision of ‘benefits to students’ within the meaning of s 51(xxiiiA) of the Constitution.”
With those words, the High Court has this morning knocked out the federal government’s controversial $244 million program which puts religious chaplains in Australia’s schools.
As Crikey told you recently, this scheme is dominated by Christian groups (we couldn’t find any other religion using the scheme). Catholics, The Salvation Army, Seventh Day Adventists, “Youth for Christ” … there are more than 2800 schools with a government-funded religious chaplain at work. The vast majority are in public schools.
Queensland father Ron Williams has waged a courageous four-year legal battle to have the chaplain program struck out. He took on one of the biggest providers, Scripture Union Queensland. Today, he won.
The judgment is partly about whether the federal government has the constitutional right to directly fund local groups to deliver chaplaincy services. The government may find another way to fund the program, for example channelling grants through state and territory governments.
But Crikey says enough is enough. It is not the role of the federal government to use taxpayers’ money — which, according to the government, is in short supply — to install Christian chaplains in public schools.
We are a largely secular country and religion should not be forced down schoolchildren’s throats. People should be free to subscribe to any religion they choose, and to seek out spiritual guidance for themselves. This should be a private activity, not one in which government plays a part.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a former trainee priest, reckons he doesn’t have the money to provide the dole for young unemployed people, or maintain support for university students, or keep GP visits free.
Well we have a better idea to save money, Tony. Scrap this $244 million program entirely and keep God out of state schools.