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School chaplaincy program deemed unconstitutional
June 18, 2014 8:06 PM   Subscribe

Today the High Court of Australia ruled (Williams v Commonwealth of Australia [2014] HCA 23) for the second time that Commonwealth funding of school chaplains was unconstitutional. This is in direct contradiction of the Abbott government's recent budget moves to totally defund secular counsellors in favour of a $244M school chaplaincy program[me]. posted by wilful (48 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
In tangentially related news, apparently creationism isn't allowed to be taught in any state-funded UK schools. Not that chaplains in Australia are teaching, and not that they all believe in creationism.
posted by wilful at 8:11 PM on June 18


All the school chaplaincy program meant for me was an hour of playing age of empires on the school computers now and then, since the school didn't really know what to do with the handful of kids who got notes from their atheist parents.

For my friends that didn't get notes, the chaplaincy instructors were really clueless, one was trying to tell them there was a literal wall of water between the earth and the sun.
posted by Joe Chip at 8:21 PM on June 18 [1 favorite]


Just had a brief scan of some of the articles, but it seems to me that the issue that was being litigated was the manner in which the program was being funded rather than the program itself. I suspect we haven't seen the end of this. No doubt Abbot will continue to push the issue.

On reflection, I don't think I would have much of an issue of religion in schools if it were being taught as a genuine comparative religious studies course, and if secular ethics were offered as a legitimate and wholly worthwhile alternative. In the modern pluralist Australian society, there can simply be no justification for pushing Christian normative teachings on values onto a class that will be comprised of every religion no the planet and a few kids whose families have made conscious and informed decisions not to raise their kids with religious beliefs.
posted by tim_in_oz at 8:23 PM on June 18 [3 favorites]


Joe, you're confusing CRE/SRI (religious ed) with chaplaincy. The chaplain may or may not take CRE classes (allowed by the State government, not funded by the Commonwealth I believe), but is there to act as (a typically untrained, unqualified) school counsellor.
posted by wilful at 8:24 PM on June 18 [2 favorites]


wilful, yeah I just read TFA now, it says this was introduced in 2006 by Howard.
posted by Joe Chip at 8:26 PM on June 18


"a loose coalition of Greens, gays, and atheists" sounds pretty great to me.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 8:35 PM on June 18 [17 favorites]


Wow. That Abbot managed to pass that budget is bananas. I can't really see any way of interpreting it as anything but the first step toward full theocracy.

(More like Tony Ayatollah, amirite?)
posted by Sys Rq at 8:38 PM on June 18


Chaplains are not allowed to proselytise. If the government really believe that they don't, what is the point in cutting out non-religious councillors?
posted by unliteral at 8:56 PM on June 18 [4 favorites]


One of the original architects of the program, LNP MP Andrew Laming, said "I look directly in the eyes of the loose alliance of Greens, gays and atheists who have mounted this continuous campaign against chaplaincy: you are clearly out of touch."

The stats disagree, fuckwit. And, more relevantly, so does the High Court.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:58 PM on June 18 [8 favorites]


My mother was a high school chaplain in the WA state school system for about five years. A born again/evangelical Christian who has no post high school education or qualifications (unless you count Bible College, which I most certainly do not), she suffers from what her daughters suspect is borderline personality disorder. WTF she was doing in that school I will never understand and I really hope this is the first step to killing this program off for good.
posted by Wantok at 8:59 PM on June 18 [4 favorites]


Just had a brief scan of some of the articles, but it seems to me that the issue that was being litigated was the manner in which the program was being funded rather than the program itself.

Basically, yeah.

As far as school chaplains went, the one my (public, Victorian) high school had was about as good as you can get (from my perspective) -- a lovely, very liberal, love-thy-neighbour type, who I recall helping kids to attend anti-war rallies and the like. We got along well on a personal level. Nevertheless, I never would have felt comfortable going to him with any problems, and I know many other kids didn't, as well. Additionally, his presence was used as an excuse to set up a "chaplaincy committee," which was basically a pseudo-PTA that was far more evangelistic and used its clout to bring Christian rock bands, the Gideons, and church youth groups into the school.
posted by retrograde at 9:03 PM on June 18 [2 favorites]


The program is purely politicians wanting to use taxpayer funds to provide another avenue of financial support to increasingly irrelevant churches.
posted by jjderooy at 9:07 PM on June 18 [8 favorites]


... the issue that was being litigated was the manner in which the program was being funded rather than the program itself.

That is correct, the issue is that it is being Federally funded but what the Feds can be involved in is limited by ss 51 and 52 (plus a few other odds and ends) in the Constitution. The Government argued that it either fit under the 'benefits for students' power found amongst pensions, dole etc. powers or it was through the executive power. 'Benefits for Students' is really more to do with Youth Allowance and that sort of thing whilst the whole executive line was mostly disproved in the earlier HCA case.

Both that earlier case and this one was reported in such a way that suggested this was to do with religious freedom, bans on state religion or some such, but that's far from the case (that line of argument was dismissed very quickly in the first case). The High Court very rarely make any value-judgement decisions in their own judgments, in much the same way that the ACT Same-Sex Marriage case had nothing to do with the Court's views on Same-Sex Marriage. Our paramount court, unlike, dare I say, the SCOTUS, is refreshingly apolitical.
posted by Serial Killer Slumber Party at 9:07 PM on June 18 [4 favorites]


My dearest, deepest wish for Australian politics right now is that we get a chance to turf Abbott and his horrible compatriots out of office after less than a year of incompetency and wrongdoing.

It would be deeply satisfying, and while it wouldn't make up for him getting elected in the first place, having him not even be One-Term Tony, not even One-Year Tony, would be at least one good thing to come out of it.
posted by gadge emeritus at 9:13 PM on June 18 [8 favorites]


"Here's a guy who enjoys his drink, I just happened to drink it upside down."

Well, Australia is on the bottom of the planet, so everything's upside down.
posted by univac at 9:27 PM on June 18


Both that earlier case and this one was reported in such a way that suggested this was to do with religious freedom, bans on state religion or some such, but that's far from the case (that line of argument was dismissed very quickly in the first case).

Just because that's not the reason it was struck down doesn't mean it wasn't the reason Williams and his supporters fought to have it struck down. Looks to me like they tried all the keys on the ring until they found one that fit the lock.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:29 PM on June 18 [1 favorite]


Just because that's not the reason it was struck down doesn't mean it wasn't the reason Williams and his supporters fought to have it struck down.

I certainly would agree with that, Williams was very vocal about his opposition to the (in my opinion, very flawed) chaplaincy program as should be commended for the huge work required to take it to the High Court. Given the very dry and administrative nature of our Constitution, many cases that are fought with high emotion and belief are won based on technical issues such as sources of funding or decision-making processes.

Capone and taxes and all that I suppose.
posted by Serial Killer Slumber Party at 9:38 PM on June 18 [3 favorites]


Did you see this trolly article in The Guardian? (gah, I'm perpetuating the cycle!)

I love that states' rights is viewed as "sinister" by this fuckhead, and the implication that - constitution be damned - we should just act like the constitution says what he want it to say, rather than what it does.

I mean, I get it, with idiots like Newman etc in charge, the states can be bloody annoying - but just imagine if we didn't have them as a barrier between, hmm I don't know, an insane federal government led by a bunch of right wing ideologues that take their queues from the most predatory and deluded capitalists available?

Further, I would argue that our nation was founded on the notion that states have certain powers, and the federal governments either. We can' just ignore that (and the constituion) because we don't like it.

I'm not a lawyer, but based on my read of it - and the fact that Labor's mystifying attempt to get around it (Why? Talk about an issue no one gives a shit about) was ruled as "no dice" - the Abbott govt will have to tie some pretty knots to keep it humming.

And don't get me started on the absence of secular 'chaplains', non-Christian 'chaplains' (there is literally not one).
posted by smoke at 9:47 PM on June 18 [1 favorite]


I found this "Removing SRI how-to guide" today, and thought it was great*. Then this news came out. Yay High Court!

Now watch Abbott somehow just shovel that dosh straight to private schools instead.

* You know... for those people who aren't childless misanthropes. Apparently you have to talk to people and stuff - so not it's really my bag.
posted by pompomtom at 9:52 PM on June 18 [2 favorites]


…there to act as (a typically untrained, unqualified) school counsellor.

Just what every troubled kid needs. Geesh.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:07 PM on June 18


I mean, I get it, with idiots like Newman etc in charge, the states can be bloody annoying

If "States' Rights" means keeping a whole NSW between Newman's mob and myself, then I reckon I must be in favour.
posted by pompomtom at 10:25 PM on June 18


Wow. That Abbot managed to pass that budget is bananas. I can't really see any way of interpreting it as anything but the first step toward full theocracy.

Only parts of the budget have managed to make it through like the high income earner tax. The cuts to schools and hospitals have been done executively through intra-governmental agencies.

Meanwhile, Labor and the Greens threw down the double dissolution gauntlet by once again refusing to scrap the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. The greens and Labor are daring Abbott to pull the trigger every time the word "mandate" comes out of Hockey's fat, smug, shit spewing mouth.
posted by Talez at 10:29 PM on June 18 [2 favorites]


As with so many things, David Thorne has thoroughly examined this issue.
posted by gurple at 10:51 PM on June 18 [2 favorites]


The stats disagree, fuckwit. And, more relevantly, so does the High Court.

And here are those stats I was talking about. Who wants Christian chaplaincy programs in public schools? Apparently almost no one. A recent Essential Poll found that only 5% of Australians support the chaplains-only proposal. 17% support secular trained social workers only. 37% support having both.

So Andrew Laming can go take a long walk off a short pier.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:56 PM on June 18 [4 favorites]


"a loose coalition of Greens, gays, and atheists" sounds pretty great to me.

I will admit, this is a solid description of a party at my place.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 11:02 PM on June 18 [16 favorites]




Quite coincidentally, my boy came home with a note from school today, the gist of which was "we think our school chaplain is the best person ever and totally great for our school. Could you please circle the big YES below to confirm you agree with us? YES NO "

I don't like to make waves in this sort of situation/community, but even I felt I had to append a little note requesting the use of more neutral language for these things. I suspect I'm now on the Principal's shit-list. But Ha! Justice!
posted by wilful at 12:18 AM on June 19 [5 favorites]


tim-in-oz, I think it depends entirely on what classes the school offers. My kids chose to do scripture in primary school, but they selected a faith that I knew nothing about, Bahai, because it was the 'cool' scripture class (I don't even know if I've spelled that correctly.)

Each week they learned about a different religion or lack thereof. Islam one week, Buddhism the next, atheism the week after that. The unspoken moral of each class was that different people can have different faiths, and indeed some people choose to have none, but we are all people and can treat each other kindly no matter what.

For me, someone who is dead against organised religion, the approach of that teacher was a revelation. She helped to teach my kids to be good people, without shoving stories about virgin births and killing in the name of your faith down their throats. If she is paid by the chaplaincy funding, then I'm all for keeping it and praying (ha!) that other people like her can have an impact on kids.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 1:00 AM on June 19 [1 favorite]


My son went to the Anglican scripture class after a term of non-scripture (colouring in the library because they are not allowed to learn anything during that time as it would disadvantage the god botherers) because the Anglicans gave out stickers.
He came home the first day: "I don't want to go to the Anglicans anymore, its just Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!". Pretty perceptive for a 5yro.

My partner now coordinates the ethics program for our local school, so there is a better alternative than colouring. To volunteer for ethics teaching, you have to attend a course for two days in Sydney, pass interviews and get at least two levels of review/approval.
My friend teaches the Catholic class. He had to have a quiet word with the local priest to get appointed.

God knows why we have hundreds of millions of funding, in this time of fiscal emergency, for largely unwanted chaplains.
posted by bystander at 2:10 AM on June 19 [2 favorites]


I'm all in favour of scrapping the chaplaincy program -- if only those $$$ could go to the CSIRO!

If the price we have to pay is an increase in states' rights, I can't complain too much; after all, a more diverse state environment, I think, would be a good thing for Australia. After all, it's easier to change the direction of a smaller ship than a supertanker.
posted by nonspecialist at 2:41 AM on June 19


I kind of hope the Abbott government finds some way around this. Then I hope some really dedicated unemployed young person makes it all the way through whatever bumblefuck training Access Ministries provide, always careful to write and say "Our Lord" or "Him" wherever neccessary. Then get employed as a chaplain, be a spectacular poster child for the chaplaincy program, then after a couple of years come out as a full blown satanist. Satanism surely must be a recognised religion after all. A massive long-form performance piece like this. I'd crowdfund that shit.
posted by nameinuse2 at 3:02 AM on June 19 [2 favorites]


My kids chose to do scripture in primary school, but they selected a faith that I knew nothing about, Bahai, because it was the 'cool' scripture class (I don't even know if I've spelled that correctly.)

Bahá'í is the closest english translation, Bahai is close enough. The core tenant of the faith is The Unity of God (there is one god, source of all the universe), the Unity of Religion (that all religions have the same source and worship the same god in whatever form) and the Unity of Humanity (All humans are equal, and we should appreciate our differences.)

Let's just says these tenets, esp. the last two, have made the Bahá'í not exactly popular in many places, and they're absolutely hated by MY GOD OR DEATH fundamentalists. They've suffered a fair amount of repression over the years. Islam, in particular, considers them apostates, and the worst prosecutions they've suffered have been in Islamic countries. Iran and Egypt really hate them.

They bar backbiting, gossip, partisan politics, and discourage any ritual other than the obligatory prayer, which is remarkably nice of them. Alas, they prohibit alcohol, and teh gay is forbidden, so yeah, religion, I'll pass.

They do have a wicked sense of architecture, if there's a Bahá'í temple near you, it's likely a landmark.
posted by eriko at 3:10 AM on June 19


The intended point of the school chaplaincy programme was to transform Australia's culture (until now, vaguely secular and suspicious) and lay the foundations of a US-style religious right, who in a generation's time, could be counted on to get out the vote for the Liberals, sending their kids out in the rain to deliver leaflets about how voting Labor/Greens is a ticket to eternal damnation.
posted by acb at 3:21 AM on June 19 [8 favorites]


Stacey, some of the loveliest people and dearest friends I have are Bahai. But it's a young religion and is very intolerant of gay people. To the point of shunning them.

The Bahai faith will also, under no circumstances, EVER, allow women at the top tier of their faith...the International House of Justice in Haifa.

So, not unlike fundamentalists... They also do missionary work in developing countries particularly pacific islands. I find this ethically abhorrent. And this is an obstacle in the full development of our friendships. But they're all good, kind generous and compassionate people.

I love Bahai people, I hate the central Bahai tenets. You should too.
posted by taff at 4:56 AM on June 19 [2 favorites]


I'm re-reading God Emperor of Dune at the moment.

Just saying....
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 5:22 AM on June 19


The thing that amused me the most about this whole fiasco is the way, when the High Court ruled that the moneys already paid out for the chaplaincy program should never have been paid out, the accounting response to that is to turn that funding into loans requiring repayment... which repayment requirement Mathias Corman, bless his little cotton socks, apparently has the power to waive and has said he will do so.

Fully expecting these clowns to start funding all kinds of nonsense with waived-repayment debt now, and wondering how long it's going to take the High Court to devise some suitable remedy for having been given the roo fingers in such a blatant fashion.
posted by flabdablet at 9:56 AM on June 19 [1 favorite]


the Unity of Humanity (All humans are equal, and we should appreciate our differences.)

...

and teh gay is forbidden


Some humans are more equal than others, it would seem.

Also, what a novel idea, the separation of Church and State. Well done, High Court.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:57 AM on June 19


Can someone please explain how this program still exists? I can see why the Liberals would want it but even Julia Gillard supported and extended it.
posted by sid at 12:45 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


blah blah blah something something TRADITION something something, I think.

Also it completely throws me off when I read 'Liberals' and realize that in Australia they are actually a far right conservative party; up here they're centre-left.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:23 PM on June 19


Also, what a novel idea, the separation of Church and State. Well done, High Court.

That's really not what the decision is about.
posted by pompomtom at 4:12 PM on June 19 [3 favorites]


The First Dog on the Moon shares his view on the Chaplaincy Program
posted by michswiss at 11:32 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


pompomtom, at heart, yes it really is. The funding of school chaplains is unconstitutional. The method by which they got there was via funding, but the reality of the decision is separation between church and state; the state can't get involved in religion.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:36 AM on June 20


ompomtom, at heart, yes it really is.

Hmmm, not really mate. At heart, it's about whether the federal government has powers of funding and oversight over things that fall within states' purview (in this case, schools) - religion had nothing to do with it, and if state governments wanted to fund chaplains, or any other religious thing in schools, they could do so tomorrow with no legal barriers whatsoever. By the same token, if the federal government wanted to fund an atheist hoe-down in every single school that would, likewise, be struck down.

We are not like the US, say, for France, when it comes to separation of church and state, though we are not very religious as a country.
posted by smoke at 3:16 PM on June 20 [2 favorites]


That should be "or" France, not for.
posted by smoke at 4:38 PM on June 20


pompomtom, at heart, yes it really is.

Fffm, this is a phenomenon that is often observed in non-US threads. In this instance, you, an American, are telling Australians how things really are in Australia. Especially given that you are wholly incorrect, it might be better for you to listen to what people with actual knowledge and context are saying before dismissing them out of hand.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 12:08 AM on June 21


The irony in your comment about getting things wrong, HTWRT, is that I am Canadian, which clicking my profile would have told you.

If I'm wrong, I'm wrong, that's fine. But as an outsider that is exactly what the decision looks like.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:24 AM on June 21


The owls are not what they seem.
posted by flabdablet at 10:22 AM on June 21 [1 favorite]


The irony in your comment about getting things wrong, HTWRT, is that I am Canadian, which clicking my profile would have told you.

Hah! Touché.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 1:47 AM on June 22 [2 favorites]


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