Australian court OKs aid to chuch-run schools

The High Court of Australia has rejected a claim that government aid to church-run schools is unconstitutional. The court's decision brought to an end an eight-year legal battle waged by an organization called the Defense Government Schools (DOGS) against such aid. The organization had earlier failed to persuade political parties to support its position.

All six Australian states and two federal territories were involved in the case because federal funds are channeled through them to the private schools.

Facts in the case show that more than $250 million a year in government funds is turned over to church-run schools. In 1976 there were about 2.9 million children receiving primary or secondary education in Australia. More than 20 percent of these children attended private and parochial schools. Of 2,002 private schools receiving government aid that year, 1,965 had a religious affiliation; 1,657 of them were affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church.

In one sense DOGS lost the case before the High Court delivered its judgment. In elections last October, the question of state aid to the church schools emerged as an issue. Both the government parties and the opposition Labor Party pledged that if the High Court's decision went against state aid, they would try to pass a constitutional amendment to approve such aid.

They High Court said Australian laws do not prevent the government from making grants that indirectly aid churchers, even if, as in this case, most of the aid went to a single church.

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