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Parents’ Investment in Christian Education in Jeopardy – Martyn Iles

by | Thu, Dec 1 2022

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Martyn Iles is the Managing Director of the Australian Christian Lobby. He joined Neil Johnson on 20Twenty to discuss the challenges faced by Christian schools after The Federal Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, asked the Australian Law Reform Commission to review the country’s religious exemptions for schools in federal anti-discrimination law.

When you consider the large sums of money parents invest in having their children educated in Christian schools, it is concerning when a government can interfere by taking away Christian ethics from the school system. For many parents, paying for their child’s Christian education is a huge financial sacrifice, but it at least ensures that their child will not be exposed to woke culture and other extreme views taught in government schools.

Martyn stated that Christian schools are feeling increased pressure from the government. Principals are really struggling, especially in states like Victoria, where the government is trying to make certain woke teachings essential for their ongoing accreditation. One of the most crucial threats is the federal government’s decision to review Section 38 of the Sex Discrimination Act, which currently enables Christian schools to choose staff that share their values.

‘You can’t really have a Christian school environment without Christian staff who share their values. It doesn’t work,’ said Martyn.

Section 38 is a crucial protection that enables Christian schools to uphold Christian codes of conduct, such as having gender-specific toilets, uniforms and sleeping quarters at camps. Rather than making other arrangements for transitioning transgender students, Christian schools will be forced to change the rules in the school.

It’s crucial to the existence of a Christian school to be able to run a school according to its Christian values in relation to the student body, the policies they have and the staff they choose. Otherwise, it’s not a Christian school anymore. It’ll be like other government schools, which is concerning to many parents considering the woke ideologies being taught there at the moment.

The only exception the government were willing to consider was the right of a Christian school to prefer a staff member for employment who identifies as the same religion. This means that someone applying for a job at the school could call themselves a Presbyterian and even say they regularly attend church but be in a same-sex relationship. Or they might teach political ideologies that are opposed to the Christian faith or do other things that are inconsistent with Christian values. If the school Principal brings up these matters, they would be accused of discrimination based on that person’s sexual orientation or transgender identity or political persuasion even though they identify as a Presbyterian.

‘That’s the legal hole schools are going to find themselves in. So it’s a tough time to be a Christian school,’ said Martyn.

When you consider that the politicians who are proposing to take away the rights of Christian schools are not taking away their own rights as a political party to prefer hiring staff who uphold their political ethos. It’s acceptable for them to discriminate if applicants don’t agree with their political views.

‘You can’t have a Liberal Party if it’s full of Greens members. It ceases to be the Liberal Party. You can’t have a Labour Party if people are espousing Socialist Alliance values. It ceases to be the Labour Party. It’s the same for Christian schools. You can’t have a Christian school if you don’t have Christian principles enforced and if you don’t have Christian staff,’ said Martyn. ‘So what’s good for the goose is not good for the gander here for the Labour Government. They want to take away the rights of Christian schools and Christian entities, but they want to hang on to their own rights. It’s hard not to see this as a bit of a targeted attack on Christian schools.’

The other part of the law reform in the Northern Territory is that they want to bring in laws that make it possible for anyone who feels offended on the basis of some identity pride, whether it be their sexuality, gender identity, religion or their political affiliation or whatever they find offensive to go to the Anti-Discrimination Tribunal or the Human Rights Tribunal and start legal action.

There’s been a great response from churches, Bishops and concerned parents getting together to express their objections. Now is the time for people to take action before their state government follows the NT government’s lead.

For those wanting to take a stand, visit the Australian Christian Lobby website for ways to get in touch with your local MP or have your voice heard.

ValueEd Voices is another option that assists parents in taking action against government interference in Christian schools. ValueEd Voices stands for:

  • The rights of families to raise their children without government interference.
  • The rights of parents to choose a school that reflects their values and beliefs.
  • The right of Christian schools to employ staff who will teach and promote the school’s values and beliefs.
  • The right of all students to receive fair funding.

Mark Spencer, Director of Public Policy at Christian Schools Australia, commented:

‘Across all states I think that many parents and school communities are looking to the Albanese Government to ensure consistent protections nationally, in line with our obligations under international law, and ensure that States and Territories cannot undermine those protections. 

Making sure that Federal MPs and Senators are aware of that is the key to ensuring that this occurs.’

Vanessa Cheng, Executive Officer at Australian Association of Christian Schools commented:

‘AACS was bitterly disappointed the NT Government did not listen to the reasonable concerns expressed by faith-based school leaders, including NT Christian Schools and Catholic Bishop Charles Gauci, and pressed ahead with passage of its controversial Anti-Discrimination Amendment Bill.

Faith-based schools in the NT are now seeking their own legal advice and examining how they can continue to maintain their distinctive religious ethos. They want to ensure they can continue to operate in accordance with their internationally recognised human right of religious freedom, which the NT Government has firmly reassured us are not compromised by the new legislation.

We appreciate the comments made by NT Attorney-General Chansey Paech that religious schools will not be prevented from “delivering faith-based elements within the school” under the legislation although we note there is still much uncertainty around these protections. 

We now turn our eyes to the Federal government to deliver on their election commitment to protect all Australians from religious discrimination and ensure religious schools can continue to employ people of the same faith. 

We eagerly await the outcome of the Federal Government’s Australian Law Reform Commission inquiry for further clarity and a nationally consistent approach for our schools in this area.’

This article was inspired by Martyn’s interview with Neil Johnson.  To hear Martyn’s interview with Neil, click the link below: