School chaplains are confident their program will continue despite a High Court setback. Photo: Tony GentileThe National School Chaplaincy Association is confident the program will continue despite a High Court decision striking down federal funding arrangements.
Six judges upheld Toowoomba father Ron Williams’ claim that the federal government’s agreement to fund the Scripture Union of Queensland to provide chaplaincy services was unlawful.
SU Qld CEO and NSCA spokesman Peter James said they welcomed the High Court’s acknowledgement of the value chaplains who currently work in 3000 school communities across the nation.
“Having ruled out the funding model, we look to the Commonwealth to put in place an alternative funding solution,” he said.
“That could well be a system of grants via the states and territories.”
Mr James said the organisation welcomed Prime Minister Tony Abbott restating his support for school chaplains.
“With the government behind the program, and in fact bi-partisan support for the program, I’m confident that some form of funding will be put in place.”
Mr James said the states sided with Mr Williams because the case was primarily states’ spending rights versus commonwealth spending rights.
“The state governments and territory governments are committed to the program … all of them acknowledge that chaplains have provided significant benefits,” he said.
“I don’t really see this as making any difference at all to the commitment of state and territory governments under their own funding schemes.”
Queensland Council for Civil Liberties President Michael Cope said there were more than enough secular services available to provide the guidance and counselling for students.
“Today’s decision of the High Court gives the government the chance to abolish a program which violates the principle of the separation of church and state,” he said.
“In our multicultural society it is important that the state does not alienate some of its citizens by favouring one religion over the other or those who have no religion by being seen to favour religion.
“Yet this is precisely what successive Commonwealth governments have chosen to do by this program.”
Mr James said all participation in the scheme was voluntary, by both the school community and the student.
“Chaplaincy is a non-coersive, non-manipulative program of support, proselytising is prohibited,” Mr James said.
“There have been successive studies overseas and within Australia about the benefit of social, emotional and spiritual support programs for the wellbeing of students, and the connection of wellbeing enhancement to educational outcomes.”
Mr James expressed regret about the cost of the High Court case.
“It’s disappointing that we and the Commonwealth would be put to this expense really when the program is entirely voluntary,” he said.
“We have spent money, I can’t disclose to you how much money we’ve spent, but we would rather have spent that money on the well-being of students rather than fighting a court case.”