SCHOOL CHAPLAINCY FUNDING PROGRAM DECLARED INVALID BY HIGH COURT

Funding for school chaplains has been declared constitutionally invalid for the second time by the High Court of Australia, in a victory for Toowoomba father-of-six Ron Williams. The ruling has cast legal doubt on more than 400 commonwealth spending programs, and could force the Abbott government to overhaul the way it funds everything from private schools and universities to hospitals and local roads. In a unanimous decision, the High Court found the $244 million school chaplains program was invalid because it was not supported by a head of constitutional power. It is the second time the High Court has rebuffed the school chaplaincy funding mechanism.

In 2012, following an earlier challenge by Mr Williams, the High Court ruled spending on the chaplaincy scheme was invalid because it was not supported by specific legislation passed by parliament. Days later, the Gillard government rushed emergency legislation through parliament to rescue the scheme and support funding for hundreds of other government programs that were also not supported by legislation. However, today the High Court ruled the 2012 legislation was invalid in so far as it related to the school chaplains scheme because it was not supported by a specific head of constitutional power.

The decision casts doubt on billions in funding for other government programs covered by the legislation, including the National Disability Insurance Scheme, local infrastructure schemes, funding for surf clubs and other projects in marginal electorates, drought assistance, counter-terrorism funding and job services. The school chaplaincy program was first introduced by the Howard government and continued under Labor, which expanded it to cover secular student welfare workers. In May, the Abbott government announced a further $244m for the scheme over four years to provide chaplains for 2900 schools, but scrapped funding for non-religious counsellors.

Mr Williams has four children enrolled at the Darling Heights State Primary School in Toowoomba, west of Brisbane, which has had a commonwealth-funded chaplain since 2007. He is a passionate believer in the separation of church and state, previously saying “Public schools aren’t a place for religious missionaries, with or without government funding. The fact the federal government was funding them was adding insult to injury.’’ Mr Williams has self-funded both cases with the help of donations from other parents and has said his aim in launching the second round of litigation was to ensure all commonwealth spending was properly scrutinised by parliament and the public.

National School Chaplaincy Association spokesman Peter James said the educational benefits of the chaplaincy program were widely recognised by schools, educators and parents. “While the High Court has ruled against the current model, the court has acknowledged federal funding can continue for chaplaincy through state/territory grants”. He said a recent study of school chaplaincy by the Research Centre for Vulnerable Children and Families at the University of Western Australia had shown 96 per cent of respondents — including school principals and teaching staff — supported the work of school chaplains and agreed they were valued as members of a student support services team.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has reassured the community of the government’s commitment to the program when he said it “very much supports the program and wants it to continue”.  In the Senate Question time, Senator Brandis said “It is important to note that in arriving at that conclusion, the Court did not deal with the merits of the program, merely that the question of whether it fell within a particularly constitutional definition”.  A spokesman for the Australian Christian Lobby said it will continue to advocate for the program to ensure an appropriate funding model can be adopted by government so school communities can benefit from the support of a school chaplain.

Source: Compiled by APN from reports received from various sources

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EVANGELIST WILL GRAHAM SHARES THE HOPE OF JESUS IN BROKEN HILL

Last month in Broken Hill, Will Graham, grandson of Billy Graham, shared the hope and love of Jesus with nearly 600 people during Reality 2014. Despite the city’s reputation as a tough outback community, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association accepted the invitation to hold the event, seeing the strong unity in the churches and their commitment to prayer. “We started off having a monthly prayer meeting, and then it went bi-weekly, then weekly and now daily, and we’re getting 40-50 people at every prayer meeting,” said Pastor John Curtis of Broken Hill Church of Christ shortly before the event. “To have people from all the churches praying together, is creating a unity like never before.”

In the end, nearly 600 attended the two-day event. In a city where the average attendance on a Sunday is around 300 people, 58 came forward to make a spiritual commitment to Jesus Christ.  “God loves you so much that He sent Jesus to pay your debt so your relationship with Him can be restored,” said Graham in his message to the assembled crowd. “Your life can change when you give it over to God. Christ can change everything. Give you a new beginning.”  A combined church service on Sunday morning finished with 200 people coming forward to indicate their commitment to sharing Christ with their friends and neighbours.

Following the conclusion of Reality 2014, dozens of church, community and business leaders gathered together for one last meal, and Graham offered a straight-forward Gospel presentation. People scattered throughout the auditorium indicated a desire to pray and begin a relationship with Jesus. Among them were two tween-aged boys who had walked in from the skate park to see if they could have a meal, and were welcomed with open arms. Reality 2014 was Graham’s fourth outreach of 2014, following events in Sri Lanka, Japan and Mississippi. His fifth and final multi-day Celebration of 2014 will take place in July in Mount Hagen, Papua New Guinea.

Source: Billy Graham Evangelistic Association

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AUSTRALIAN MUSLIMS FIGHTING FOR REBELS IN IRAQ

Authorities are concerned that individuals who left Australia to fight in Syria pose a terrorism threat when they return. The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) said it is investigating up to 150 dual-nationality people who have either travelled to Syria to fight or support the extremist rebels from Australia, including some who have been to Syria and come back again. About half of those are believed to be in Syria or the surrounding region. A considerable proportion of those are believed to be with the more extreme rebel groups including ISIL and the al-Nusra Front. At least some of those are more than just foot soldiers, holding more senior positions as commanders, security sources say.

Both ASIO and Attorney-General George Brandis have repeatedly expressed concerns that such people will pose a terrorism threat when they return home battle-hardened and more radicalised.  At least 10 Australians are believed to have been killed fighting in Syria with rebel groups. Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop said that the government was ”deeply concerned” about dual citizens fighting with opposition groups in Syria and Iraq and said she had already cancelled ”a number” of passports. She said some of these fighters,  have moved from supporting more moderate opposition groups to the more extreme & brutal ISIS. Most of the fighters are believed to be Lebanese or Turkish dual nationals.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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RAMADAN COMMENCES THIS WEEK

This week marks the beginning of the Muslim fasting period of Ramadan. From 28th June until 27th July, most Muslims will fast from sunrise to sunset in an effort to shed away their sins through acts of restraint. At this time, we can especially pray for our brothers and sisters living in Muslim countries. We can also pray that during this time, Christ will reveal himself to Muslims who are seeking answers. Open Doors has produced a free prayer calendar to help Christians who would like to pray for a ‘harvest of souls’ in the Muslim world in both Australia and the other Islamic nations of the world. The prayer calendar is available as a free download from www.opendoors.org.au .

Please pray:

* during this period of Ramadan for strength for Christians living in Muslim countries, as Ramadan can be a time of increased pressure and persecution.

* also for encouragement, wisdom and protection for all those who confess Jesus as Lord. Pray for safety, and pray they will act as a good witness to their neighbours at this time.

*  that God will reveal himself to Muslims in our own and other nations through visions, dreams, miracles and Christian witness; that they may come to know Christ as the only way to eternal life.

 

Source: Australian Prayer Network

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