The important debate re school chaplaincy (and Special Religious Education) in Australian schools is being waged on many fronts. Confusing the issues are political expediency and opportunism, unclear definitions, and a range of alleged apparent motivations across the religious sector. State specific situations, such as the “Ethics alternative” showdown in NSW and the administrative issues that pertain to Victoria’s arrangements add further confusion. An updated perspective on all this can be seen here.
However, it is important to know what can and cannot be achieved by the current High Court challenge relating to the National School Chaplaincy Program, a bilaterally supported Government funding initiative. And it is in one of the comments on the article by one Chrys Stevenson that clarification is to be found:
It is important that the public knows what will, and will not, be canvassed in Williams’ High Court Challenge. It is not about separation of church and state, it is not about funding for church schools, and it is not about the merits (or otherwise) of placing religious chaplains in secular state schools.
At issue is:
a) Whether expenditure on the National School Chaplaincy Program was ever properly approved by parliament.
b) Whether the contract between Scripture Union Queensland and the Commonwealth is valid.
c) Whether chaplaincy can be defined as a ‘benefit to students’ in the context of S.51 of the constitution.
d) Whether the NSCP guidelines impose a religious test for the employment of chaplains.
e) Whether chaplains can be defined as ‘officers under the Commonwealth’ in the context of S.116.
Which ever way this case is resolved, the community is going to have to come to terms somehow with a continuing interface between school and faith communities – government funded or otherwise. Is there enough maturity on either side to resolve the challenges that the debate has raised?