Responsible government, federalism and the School Chaplaincy Case
God’s okay, it’s Mammon that’s troublesome
With its intermingled themes of politics, religion and constitutional law, the school chaplaincy case of Williams v Commonwealth (‘Williams’) was bound to ruffle feathers.1 In it, the High Court held unconstitutional the mechanism for funding — but not the substance — of the National School Chaplaincy Program. The decision however was all about Mammon, not God. It left the Commonwealth scrambling to reinforce the constitutionality of a whole range of directly-funded Commonwealth schemes. With further litigation mooted, the school chaplaincy saga is by no means over. The Court may yet again find that the program is not properly constituted, and needs to be channeled through state education departments. The Williams decision represents a significant development in constitutional law concerning the Commonwealth executive’s power to spend. It casts uncertainty over a myriad of nationally funded endeavours, like direct funding of universities.