Mr Howard has told Macquarie Radio that the Government would ensure the chaplains are not extremists, but he denies that the plan blurs the line between church and state.
"I don't think it is," he said.
"I think it is just reserving the right in extreme circumstances - the Government, because taxpayers' money is being used - to say we don't think this person is appropriate.
Reassuring, in these troubled times when the antediluvian views of the chronically stupid are seen as a threat to all that we cherish about this great nation of ours. And a challenge for the Australian Parliament’s legislative and regulatory draftsmen too – how are they going to weasel federal government selection of school chaplains past section 116 of the Australian Constitution? You know, this one:
116. The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth. (emphasis added)
Well, I suppose they could hand the money over to the States, who aren’t bound by this section of the constitution, and leave the religious discrimination to them. The one problem I see with that approach is that I can’t imagine too many of our current State Premiers or Treasurers queuing up for program grants that are offered on the condition that the State governments do Prime Minister Evil’s dirty work for him.
And where does the ALP stand on this issue? There hasn’t been any word from Fat Bastard yet, but:
The Opposition education spokeswoman, Jenny Macklin, said Labor supported the chaplaincy program, but said: "Any new chaplaincy program must be flexible enough to take into account the diversity of religious beliefs in our school systems."
So at the Federal level, the broad church of the Liberal Party and the true believers of the ALP are united in a spirit of ecumenism. Warms your cockles, doesn't it?