Ron Williams knew something was amiss when his six-year-old son came home from his public school in Queensland singing gospel ditties. A jazz singer, composer and father of six, Williams discovered that his son was taking his cues from the school chaplain – one of thousands installed in Australia's public schools at public expense. Williams and his wife Andrea, who was inculcated in fundamentalist faith at school, asked the school to keep their son out of the chaplain's classes. When the other kids found out, they began to taunt him, telling him he would go to hell.
One of the Williams's older children later came home with a "Biblezine", which the school chaplain had handed out to all 1,500 students at the school. The magazine promoted a distinctly fundamentalist religious take on sexuality and relationships. "Condoms … promote promiscuity," one article stated. "God doesn't call it alternative lifestyle," another article said of same-sex relationships. "He calls it a sin."
Constitutions matter; courts sometimes matter more. Australia's constitution has been said to lack clarity on the separation of church and state, and its high court has made a murky situation muddy over the past decades, with rulings that have undermined the secular character of the Commonwealth. The Australian constitution does have a clause that forbids the Commonwealth from making any law "for" establishing "any" religion. By way of contrast, the first amendment of the US constitution, which served as a model for the Australians in this instance, says Congress shall make no law "respecting an establishment of religion". In 1981, the high court justices, relying in part on a sophisticated reading of the words "for" and "any", concluded that Australia's constitution does not in fact guarantee the separation of church and state. They therefore upheld a programme that funnelled – and still does – taxpayer money to religious schools that operate largely free from public scrutiny.