Australia’s High Court has ruled that the National School Chaplaincy Program is constitutionally invalid because it oversteps federal funding powers.
The program, which offered schools up to $20,000 to allow students access to chaplains, was set up by the Howard Government in 2007. The scheme was later changed to allow schools to choose to employ a chaplain or non-religious student welfare worker.
Around 2700 schools have so far received funding under the program.
The case was brought forward by Queensland man Ron Williams on the basis that the Constitution does not allow Commonwealth officers to be subject to a religious test.
The court found that school chaplains were not Commonwealth employees, but instead employed by an outside organisation, the Scripture Union Queensland. It found the Commonwealth did not enter into direct arrangements with chaplains to work in schools.
However, the court found the funding agreement between Scripture Union Queensland and the Commonwealth was invalid because it was beyond the power of the Commonwealth.
The Atheist Foundation of Australia has welcomed the decision.
“This is a victory for democracy, for secularism, and for students in state schools around the country,” Atheist Foundation of Australia president David Nicholls said.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said it would be a “pity” if the program had to end.