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Australia court rejects gov’t-funded chaplain work

Associated Press

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) – Australia’s highest court said Wednesday that the government exceeded its constitutional powers by paying for chaplains to run programs in public schools, but the attorney general said she will try to keep the work going.

The High Court ruling is a victory for Ron Williams, whose 6-year-old son came home from Darling Heights State School singing gospel songs in 2010. Williams sued over the program at the school in Toowoomba in Queensland state.

Six of seven High Court judges agreed that the government exceeded its powers by paying Scripture Union Queensland to provide a school chaplain.

About 2,700 schools around Australia have similar programs. Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said she is examining the ruling’s implications.

She said she would examine ways to legally continue the program, such changing the law or paying states to provide the services instead of paying the providers directly.

The voluntary programs include support and guidance about ethics, values, relationships, spirituality and religious issues. It costs the government more than 70 million Australian dollars ($71 million) a year.

The programs were introduced in 2007, when the conservative Liberal Party led the government, but the center-left Labor Party government currently in power had planned to expand it.

“It wasn’t appropriate for a Commonwealth Government to fund such an endeavor in public schools,” Williams told Australian Broadcasting Corp. “It’s outrageous; it was always outrageous.”

The Australian Christian Lobby, an advocacy group, welcomed the government’s commitment to find a way to maintain the program.

(This version corrects misspelling in Nicola Roxon’s name in 4th paragraph.)

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