A Real Threat or a Mere Shadow? School Chaplaincy Programs and the Secular State
Williams v Commonwealth is an important decision for many reasons. In this article I shall focus on the broader normative arguments concerning state-funded chaplains, specifically those in public schools. I will address each of the principal objections to publicly-funded school chaplains, and endeavour to answer each one. The main criticisms of school chaplains and the Australian Federal Government’s National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Program (‘NSCSWP’), as it is now called, can be usefully drawn from an article by Greens member of the New South Wales Upper House, Dr John Kaye. After considering the major objections, I will next briefly discuss the religious test argument and then conclude with some brief thoughts on the compatibility of chaplaincies with the secular state. The US Supreme Court once had to decide whether legislative chaplains paid out of the public purse were a ‘real threat’ under the Constitution versus a ‘mere shadow’ on the Establishment Clause. For over a century, chaplains compensated out of public funds had said a prayer at the start of each day’s proceedings of the Nebraska state legislature. The majority of the Supreme Court concluded the paid chaplains represented no ‘real threat’ to religious freedom nor to the principle of the nonestablishment of religion. That same conclusion ought to be reached in respect of state-funded school chaplains in Australia.
Publisher: University of Queensland Law School
Keywords: school chaplains; state-funding; church-state relations; separation of church and state; proselytizing
Research Type: Journal Article