Ron Williams won a pyrrhic victory with his success in the High Court over Commonwealth funding of chaplains in state schools. Yes, he won the case — but is unlikely to see the back of chaplains in his children’s schools. The greatest legacy of the case may lie in another channel: a dampening of pork-barrelling, with politicians more likely to be forced to funnel pre-election money through properly legislated and overseen programs.
First, the case in question. Williams won; the current program of funding was held invalid, and importantly he won’t have to pay costs for the case. But he didn’t win his argument that the arrangements breached a constitutional “separation of church and state”. The High Court simply held that section 116 of the constitution, which prohibits requiring any religious test as a qualification for an office under the Commonwealth, was not breached because the chaplains did not hold an “office under the Commonwealth”. No great principle of the “separation of church and state” was established or acknowledged.