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The Humanist Society of Queensland (HSQ), in northeastern Australia, is putting its money where its mouth is by financially supporting a legal challenge to government funding of school chaplains. Queensland parent Ron Williams is challenging the constitutional validity of the National School Chaplaincy Program (NCSP), which now receives almost a billion dollars in federal government funding. The groundbreaking case will be heard before the full bench of the High Court of Australia in Canberra this week (9-11 August, 2011).

The Humanist Society initially provided $10,000 (Australian dollars) to assist Williams to obtain legal counsel about challenging the constitutionality of the federal funding for school chaplains. More recently, in order to bring the Williams’ story to a wider audience, the HSQ funded an advertisement in the online political journal, Crikey. But now the growing importance of the case has prompted the HSQ to pledge a further A$14,500 towards meeting Williams’ court costs – bringing the HSQ total official commitment to over A$25,000.

But this is not the sum total of the HSQ contribution. Individual members have been very generous in donating to the case through the High Court Challenge website (http://highcourtchallenge.com).

HSQ President, Maria Proctor, said, “There are many aspects of the NSCP which concern our members, not least the issue of ‘a religious test for office’. In any other area of employment, outside a religious organisation, a religious test is considered inappropriate and discriminatory. Chaplains funded by the NSCP should not be treated differently to other government employees within our public schools.”

Ms Proctor explained that the HSQ and its members see the Williams’ case as an important step towards Australia becoming a truly secular, democratic nation. “Secular public schools are a powerful symbol of our particular style of Australian democracy,” said Ms. Proctor. “In common with most Australians, we want to see public schools welcome students of all faiths and none, but in a context where no one religion, denomination or ideology is given preference and where the school is not a conduit for attempted religious conversion.”

“Whatever the outcome, the Ron Williams’ High Court challenge is an historic and landmark constitutional case having the power to shine a spotlight on the importance of secular public education and advance this as a vital topic for national debate,” said Ms. Proctor. “On behalf of the Queensland Humanists I’m calling upon all organisations who support secular public education to contribute towards Williams’ legal costs, if they can. Donations to a trust fund administered by Williams’ solicitor can be made at the High Court Challenge website.”

Ms Proctor asked that individuals and organisations that support the Williams’ case follow the Humanists’ lead and issue clear public statements to that effect.

 Donations to the case can be made at: www.highcourtchallenge.com.

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