The High Court's decision is in...
On Thursday 19th June 2014, the High Court of Australia handed down its decision on the ongoing federal funding for School Chaplaincy.
In line with the Court's views in the first Williams case, the Court has ruled against the current funding model, meaning another change must be made in order for funding to continue.
No doubt this judgement sounds very familiar, as it echoes the first Williams case in 2012. This is not an anti-chaplaincy ruling, but rather a ruling about where the balance lies between State and Federal government spending powers.
In fact, the High Court's Chief Justice and four other members of the court have made very positive comments about chaplaincy and how it benefits students:
"...it may be assumed that provision of chaplaincy services at a school will help some students. Provision of those services will be of benefit to them. It will be of "benefit" to them in the sense of providing them with an advantage or a good."
[School chaplain's support] "... includes "strengthening values, providing pastoral care and enhancing engagement with the broader community". These are desirable ends."
"For the purposes of argument, it may be accepted that some students would derive advantage from using the services and, in that sense, should do so. But no student and no member of the school community must do so."
Ironically, the fact that school chaplains are available to all students and benefit the whole school community means that chaplaincy falls outside of the narrow scope of the Commonwealth power. The court held that Commonwealth power extends only to identified group's of students, rather than whole school communities - and therefore a new funding model will be needed.
Queensland Schools Apply For Chaplaincy Funding In Record Numbers
Within a week 891 Queensland schools have submitted applications for an SU QLD school chaplain in what has been a record number of applications since the program became government funded in 2007.
Proving the widespread popularity and effectiveness of the chaplaincy program 99 percent of schools who currently have a chaplain reapplied, while a further 54 schools have submitted applications to participate in the chaplaincy program.
It now rests with the Queensland government to decide whether it can stretch its funding from 870 chaplaincy positions to 891 to cater for all of the schools that have made the application for a chaplain.
SU QLD CEO, Peter James, says the process has proven that Queensland schools value chaplaincy.
“It’s been a really tight application timeframe, but within a week all of our current schools responded and a large number of new schools have also requested a chaplain. Despite many sceptics it’s really clear to see that those who know and engage with a chaplain find the programme to be a benefit to the school community, its staff, students and families,” says Mr James.
“We have more than 650 chaplains who are awaiting the news of their placement and whether they will remain at their school, or move to a new school so it’s going to be a busy few weeks as we learn where applications have been accepted by the state education department,” says Mr James.
In October each Australian state and territory accepted funding for the National School Chaplaincy Programme. Queensland has been one of the fastest to ensure the program continues holding a short application process of just one week, ending on Friday 21st November.
Chaplaincy is a highly positive model that has proven to make a difference. It is widely considered the best model of holistic care and welfare, as it provides emotional, social and spiritual support. Independent studies have shown this improves student wellbeing and educational outcomes.
Chaplains are qualified to deal with people of all or no faith in a non-coercive manner and work alongside other pastoral care workers across school communities. The role of the chaplain is an integral part of the student services or pastoral care team.
It is generally accepted that spirituality is an important part of psychological wellbeing, and chaplains are not only well placed to offer this, but work collaboratively with other support services to serve their wider school communities.
The Result Last Time
How it began...
On the 20th of December, 2010, a Toowoomba man – backed by the Australian Secular Lobby – served a writ in the High Court of Australia opposing the Commonwealth funding of chaplains in state schools. The defendants in this case were the Commonwealth and SU QLD (Scripture Union Queensland) – the accredited employing authority for school chaplains in Queensland.
Huge community response
The community rallied, and around 85,000 signed statements of support for chaplaincy were collected, which was an outstanding demonstration of the value of chaplains in local schools. In fact, even though Queensland schools were recently given the option of a secular welfare worker, 98% chose to retain their chaplain. It’s become clear that there is overwhelming community support for continued funding of school chaplaincy. This gives us confidence in working with all levels of government to keep chaplains in schools.
On the 20th June, 2012, the High Court delivered their ruling. While the ramifications of the decision were quite far-reaching, the crux of the decision is that issue of Church/State separation was dismissed, but the historical funding model was rejected, as it was deemed to be beyond the Cabinet's authority to legislate.
What this meant was that the existing funding model needed to be revised, and that's exactly what happened - in record time! Within hours of the announcement, representatives from both sides of politics stepped forward to declare their commitment to the School Chaplaincy Program, and their intention to find a new way to ensure funding so that young people would not go even a day without their chappy's support.
Within a week of the initial decision being handed down, new supporting legislation was passed through the House of Representatives and the Senate, supported by Labor and the Coalition, and on the 29th June, Federal Government funding recommenced in full!
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