High Court Challenge to Religious Education

27 Apr 11

DATE: 27th of April 2011

The federally funded National School Chaplaincy Program (NSCP) is facing a constitutional challenge in the High Court. Ron Williams, a concerned parent from Queensland has brought forward the challenge claiming that the program has created a non-secular pro-Christian culture in the state schools his children attend.

Introduced by John Howard in 2007 and continued under Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, the federal funding provides for chaplains to work in schools on the condition that they are not to evangelise, however there has been increasing concern that proselytizing has occurred within state schools.

Proselytizing is against the Federal Education Department’s guidelines and the constitution prevents any law being passed which promotes or establishes a religion. The funding could be in violation of Australia’s international obligations regarding freedom of education.

Article 13.3 of the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights provides that a state will respect the liberty of parents to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions whilst Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that everyone shall have the freedom to have or adopt a religion of their choice.

Whilst there is recognition that the chaplaincy program can be positive and provide support for students within particular school communities, the Australian Council of State School Organisations has argued that the funding would be better spent on the enhancement of school counselling services. The constitutional challenge has led to a Federal Government Review and an Ombudsman investigation. The next directions hearing on the case will be held on May 9th.