Ron Williams took on school chaplaincy program and won in High Court

Ron Williams took the federal government to the High Court over funding of the school chaplaincy program. Photo: Tony WaltersHigh Court school chaplaincy funding ruling forces PM to rely on statesWhy the court struck down school chaplaincy funding

Ron Williams, a jazz singer and father of six, took on God and won.

The Toowoomba man can quote, almost verbatim, the press conference from 2006 when the former prime minister John Howard announced a national school chaplaincy program. It riled him then, and it still does now.

With four children at a public school in Queensland, Mr Williams was outraged that religious teaching in state schools could be funded by the federal government.

But after years of letter writing and complaints to two federal education ministers, Mr Williams finally had enough and he took the government to the High Court.

It marked the beginning of a David and Goliath battle which Mr Williams would win not once but twice.

Almost exactly two years ago, Mr Williams won his first High Court challenge against the chaplaincy program when six of its seven judges ruled that it exceeded the Commonwealth’s executive spending powers under the constitution.

Just days later, the Gillard government rushed through new laws to include 427 grants and programs it could fund without legislation – including drought assistance and counter terrorism measures – amounting to between 5 and 10 per cent of Commonwealth expenditure. And it did not end there.

The next day, it paid the Scripture Union of Queensland more than $6.2 million, $11,000 of which was given to Mr Williams’s children’s school to run its chaplaincy program.

Mr Williams’s latest case challenged the constitutional validity of this law.

The musician’s legal bills have mounted, and he estimates they are now close to $300,000, but much of the funding for his legal challenges has been donated by like-minded parents and individuals who support his push to stop the government from funding an “overtly religious” program.

Costs have been awarded to him after both challenges, but he says he will still be out of pocket.

“My support base has helped me so much, financially and with moral support,” Mr Williams said.

“My cases weren’t about having chaplains taken out of schools, but questioning the right of a federal government or even a state government to fund programs such as this in public schools.”

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