Chaplaincy program back in the dock of the High Court

Ron Williams is the father of four children at Darling Heights State School in Toowoomba, Queensland. Like many other schools, it has a chaplain funded by the federal government. Williams took objection to this, saying taxpayers should not pay for a religious position in a state school.

Williams has taken the remarkable step of fighting for his beliefs all the way to the High Court. On Monday, his legal team will argue before the court that the chaplaincy scheme is unconstitutional.

The case is the most anticipated of the year. If Williams succeeds, the court may not only strike down the chaplaincy scheme, but also hundreds of other federal programs worth billions of dollars. The result could rewrite the book on how the Commonwealth and the states spend public money.

The battle against the chaplaincy program has spanned several years. Williams first challenged the scheme in the High Court in 2010. He argued then that the program breached the separation of church and state and, in particular, section 116 of the constitution which says "no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth". This argument failed.

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Exempt children still receiving religious instruction in state schools

CONTROVERSY over religious instruction in state schools is set to reignite, with new figures showing up to 400,000 children should not be taking part in the program.

Principals are being accused of ignoring their own policies and allowing kids to participate in religious instruction (RI).

Civil libertarians and secular organisations maintain RI has no place in the state system.

RI came under fire earlier this year after academic Dr Cathy Byrne revealed Queensland students in five schools had reportedly been told they would “burn in hell” by instructors.

In 2010 The Sunday Mail exposed how primary school students were being taught that man and dinosaurs walked the earth together, while in 2012, a Brisbane mum pulled her young son out of RI after he was shown disturbing crucifixion images.

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Abuse class action 'fought at every turn'

The Catholic Church and Christian Brothers fought a class action by abuse victims from WA orphanages at every turn, using their strong legal position to open settlement negotiations with the offer that the men pay their costs.

Slater and Gordon lawyer Hayden Stephens has told the royal commission public hearing in Perth this morning of the uphill battle faced by hundreds of men who signed retainers for the national law firm to take on the class action.

Mr Stephens said while a trust of $3.5 million was eventually settled in 1996 after a three-year legal stoush, the Christian Brothers made it clear from the outset that under no circumstances would any agreement be seen to be a payment of compensation to victims.

"Although this amount does not fairly reflect the suffering that these men suffered and experienced at these institutions, it was the best we could achieve," Mr Hayden told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

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Abusers knew authorities wouldn't act

A former Christian Brothers student has told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse his abusers acted with impunity, safe in the knowledge the authorities would do nothing.

Young boys at four WA Christian Brothers homes were repeatedly raped and brutally beaten when they reported the abuse, which often led to perpetrators being removed and simply replaced with another brother who would inflict more sexual assaults.

John Hennessey spoke at first public hearing in Perth of the royal commission, saying the men who abused him during his time at St Joseph’s Farm and Trade School in Bindoon felt safe in doing so.

“I was exploited and abused by criminals (who were) safe in the knowledge that the State Government and church were my legal guardians, and would never bother to meet their responsibilities,“ he said.

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MIC: Hudud cannot exist alongside secular law

KUALA LUMPUR: Hudud cannot exist alongside secular criminal law and has no place in multiracial Malaysia, said MIC.

Its legal adviser Selva Mookiah said that hudud would create conflicts with the country’s secular criminal law system and the Federal Constitution.

“The Kelantan MPs will of course score vital points among the conservatives by proposing a hudud system to govern the Muslims but they should at least stop to ponder what happens when the two systems collide,” Selva said in a statement.

Citing recent “conversion, divorce, custody care and control of minors debacles”, he said there were many reasons why the hudud and secular criminal law systems would fail to exist parallel to each other.

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