The republican agenda clearly involves shredding our national flag. The nation’s most republican newspaper The Age openly declares this. It asks why not do it now.
So do those significant media personalities Peter FitzSimons and Ray Martin. For further evidence you could ask – if you knew who runs those republican redoubts – the official Australia Day Committees who now seem to see their principal function to be to push both a vague undefined politicians’ republic and flag change on almost every national day.
The republican movement is clearly embarrassed by their endorsement of the most inappropriate new flags in the nineties. They claim that they have now dropped flag change. But even if we accept that at face value, they are only a very small and diminishing part of republicanism today.
Just look at how isolated they are on the establishment position of not proceeding to a republic during the present reign. This is not the republican movement led by Malcolm Turnbull, patronised by Paul Keating and enabled through the convention and the referendum by John Howard. The movement is wholly marginalised and given to organising increasingly infantile stunts.
When the ABC realised that their story about The Queen ordering the Prime Minister to proceed with a republic was a hoax, they dropped them.
The point is that achieving a republic is only one part of the broader republican agenda. What else is being planned?
The republican media political establishment holds opinions very different from the rank and file. A succession of surveys shows that their views, opinions and beliefs are significantly different from those of the overwhelming majority of Australians.
Now there is a suggestion from a leading republican that the separation of church and state has not been achieved in Australia, and something should be done about it.
While it is politically expedient for some politicians to appear to support current policies on such matters as funding denominational schools, the strategy of the elites worldwide has been to remove such policy issues from the elected parliaments to the courts and also to unelected supranational and international organisations.
(ACM of course has no position on the funding of matters such as denominational schools. Our concern is proper constitutional process. Such matters should be determined by the parliaments under the Constitution.)
When decision making is moved from the Parliaments, and unpopular decisions are handed down on say, school funding or religious symbols in public places, the politicians who actually approve this can throw their hands up and say it is not their problem.
This result could be achieved in relation to, say, denominational schools, as part of a revised republican constitution, or more easily by a sudden change in judicial interpretation. That a call for this is coming from one well within the republican media political establishment is significant.
…school chaplains under challenge …
The case is about the schools chaplaincy programme introduced by the Howard government and maintained by the Rudd and Gillard governments. This is under constitutional challenge by a disgruntled Queensland parent, one Ron Williams.
The first key to this is Section 116 of the Constitution which was seen as a balance to the popular provision in the preamble to the Constitution Act which recites that the people of the several states had agreed to unite “humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God…”
Section 116 provides that the Commonwealth cannot make any law for ''establishing any religion'', ''imposing any religious observance'' or ''prohibiting the free exercise of any religion'', and further that ''no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth''.
Mr. Williams says the criteria for appointment as a chaplain involves a religious test.
So the latter part of the section, the rule against religious tests, will be central to the case.
…American origin …
This part of the section is based on Article VI, paragraph 3 of the United States Constitution, which says:
The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.
The High Court has been reluctant to give section 116 any extensive meaning. It has not invalidated laws conscripting men, including say, Quakers opposed to military service. It did not prohibit the deportation of a Muslim clergyman who was not a citizen. And crucially, it has allowed the funding of denominational schools.
The High Court is also to consider an alternative ground for invalidity, the new and important Pape principle ( (see this column, High Court performing well, 14 September 2009.)
This principle named after a courageous High Court plaintiff, Bryan Pape, is based on section 81 of the Constitution which provides that:
“ All revenues or moneys raised or received by the Executive Government of the Commonwealth shall form one Consolidated Revenue Fund, to be appropriated for the purposes of the Commonwealth in the manner and subject to the charges and liabilities imposed by this Constitution.”
The High Court has finally agreed that this means that the Commonwealth is restricted to funding activities only within its legislative and executive powers.
And those powers have already been given an extended meaning by various High Court decisions.
The leading republican Professor George Williams, who I am sure is unrelated to the plaintiff – laments that the challenge “reveals how little the Constitution does to separate church and state.”
( Professor Williams, a committed republican, is prominent in both media and political circles. See this column , ALP Debate: Towards a republic – a people's republic, 25 November 2009)
“Maintenance of this democratic principle rests on the actions and good sense of our politicians,” he says.
“Unfortunately, this has often proved a frail shield. Governments of all persuasions have shown themselves ready to mix politics and religion to win political favour.
“In the chaplaincy program, this compromises the ability of parents and their children to choose a free and secular education.”
Putting aside the chaplaincy programme, I disagree with Professor Williams. I think our Constitution achieves the right balance.
Adopting the approach adopted by the American judges would hand the determination of essentially political matters to the judges.
…wall of separation invented…
The American constitution – as interpreted by the judges – goes to extremes in finding a wall of separation between church and state.
After all the key First Amendment merely provides against an establishment church. It says
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof"
But the court has said this means that there is a wall of separation between church and state which necessitates banning prayers in schools, before football games, religious references in public places and the funding of school teachers teaching non-religious subject in church schools.
The Founding Fathers did not intend that – most states had established churches.
All they intended was there would not be a federal established church.
The US Constitution does not say this.
So is a court more activist when the judges are more political and where they do not owe their loyalty to an institution above politics, the Crown?
As I observed above, the flag is on the republican agenda – just ask The Age, Peter FitzSimons, Ray Martin, the official Australia Day Committees whose job is to push a republic and flag change on our national day. The republican movemen say they have now dropped it – but they are only a small and diminishing part of republicanism today.
What about the funding of denominational schools, Christmas decorations in public places, and prayers in schools? Are they on the republican agenda?