The High Court has ruled that Federal funding for a high school chaplaincy program is in breach of the Australian Constitution, The Canberra Times reports.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the Government was considering the High Court verdict, but continued to back the program, which was established by the Howard Government and continued under the Labor Rudd/Gillard Governments
'This is a policy that was invented by the Coalition. It was supported by the Coalition. It was confirmed by the Coalition. So we very much support it and we want it to continue,' he told reporters in Canberra yesterday.
'We've only just got this judgment. We'll carefully study the judgment and we'll make an appropriate response after we've made that study.'
The challenge to Federal funding of the scheme was launched by Queenslander Ron Williams, who says there is no place in public schools for non-secular programs.
The decision could undermine the Federal government's recent decision to allocate $245.3 million to continue running the chaplaincy program for another five years. That funding was intended specifically for schools to hire faith-based chaplains rather than social workers.
Under the program, 3700 schools are eligible for up to $72,000 funding to employ chaplains.
In a unanimous decision, six judges on the High Court held that the Federal Government's agreement to fund the Scripture Union of Queensland to provide chaplaincy services to Queensland schools was unlawful.
Sydney University Constitutional Law Professor, Anne Twomey, said on Wednesday that the Federal government would be able to continue the chaplaincy program by providing grants to State governments rather than directly to schools.
'This is the only real option. They can do that and they probably will,' she said
In 2012, Mr Williams won his first High Court battle against the chaplaincy program when six of its seven judges ruled that it exceeded the Commonwealth's executive spending powers under the Constitution.
The judges also said that the Government could not spend money on programs that fall outside these powers without authority from Parliament.
This threatened Federal funding for not only the chaplaincy program, but potentially hundreds of other programs that the Government had similarly agreed to pay for without passing individual laws.
About a week later, the then Labor Government amended a law to include 427 arrangements, grants, and programs it could fund without legislation. In total, they amounted to between 5 and 10 per cent of Commonwealth expenditure.
This second High Court case challenged the changed law, which the High Court has now held is invalid for the payment of the chaplaincy program.
Father wins High Court challenge on federal funding of schools chaplains program (The Canberra Times)
High Court strikes down school chaplains program (The Canberra Times)