Australian court halts chaplain funding

CANBERRA, Australia - An Australian atheist campaigning to keep religion out of the education system won his second victory Thursday when the nation's highest court ruled that it is unconstitutional for the federal government to fund a program that provides chaplains to schools.

Ron Williams began his legal battle against the multimillion-dollar program after his 6-year-old son came home from Darling Heights State School in Toowoomba city in Queensland state singing gospel songs in 2010.

Williams won in 2012 when the High Court ruled that the government had exceeded its constitutional powers by funding the program, which began in around 2,700 schools five years earlier.

The government kept the program going by amending federal legislation to address the court's ruling. But five High Court judges on Thursday unanimously agreed with Williams that the federal funding of chaplain contractor Scripture Union Queensland remained unconstitutional despite the law change.

Pope says no to legalizing pot

VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis condemned the legalization of recreational drugs as a flawed and failed experiment as he lent his voice Friday to a debate that is raging from the United States to Uruguay.

Francis told delegates attending a Rome drug enforcement conference that even limited steps to legalize recreational drugs "are not only highly questionable from a legislative standpoint, but they fail to produce the desired effects."

Likewise, Francis said, providing addicts with drugs offered only "a veiled means of surrendering to the phenomenon."

Giving increases, but not for churches

NEW YORK - A new report finds charitable giving to social service and church groups, which tends to depend on middle class donors, is flat while institutions like universities, hospitals and the arts are swimming in cash from their usually wealthy benefactors.

The Giving USA report says Americans gave more than $335 billion to charity in 2013, up 3 percent from 2012 after adjusting for inflation.

Religious organizations received more donations than any other sector in 2013, with $105 billion in gifts.

But Giving USA said the 31 percent share for church groups was their lowest portion of total giving in four decades. Adjusted for inflation, giving to religious groups declined by 1.6 percent last year.

Associated Press