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Proposed Queensland Anti-Discrimination Bill “Threatens Christian Schools”

by | Fri, Mar 8 2024

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The Queensland Director of the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) has described a draft of his state government’s proposed anti-discrimination bill as “reading like an addendum to George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984.”

Rob Norman declared that: “If tabled and passed, religious schools will be required to surrender some of their deepest held theological views and values and be subjected to the invasive oversite of the Department of Justice and the Attorney General.”

“The Attorney General has heard the views of major Christian and Muslim heads of schools and effectively informed them that their religion is unacceptable, by limiting their freedom to hire staff based on their lived ethos and faith,” he said.

Director of Public Policy for Christian Schools Australia Mark Spencer explained that: “The bill would remove the legal certainty and clarity that allows Christian and other religious schools to employ staff who share their beliefs, substituting a complex legal test that is unclear and untested in its application, opening schools up to activist litigation.”

Mr. Spencer pointed out that a recent survey with responses from over 8,500 parents in more than 100 Christian schools showed how important values and beliefs are in their choice of schooling. He accused the state government of “targeting hard working families seeking to choose a school that reflects their values and beliefs.”

Executive Officer of the Australian Association of Christian Schools Vanessa Cheng asked: “How can we continue to meet the needs of hard working Queensland parents, when this bill will make it more difficult to employ staff who can teach the faith and be genuine Christian role models to students within our communities?”

Mr. Norman asserted: “This is an existential moment for Christian education in Queensland, the incentive for religious institutions to continue will be significantly diminished if the State becomes the arbiter of sound theology. State controlled religion has, until now, been the domain of the old Soviet Union, or China.”

The state Labor government says the bill has been designed to protect people more effectively from discrimination, sexual harassment, vilification and victimisation and other unlawful conduct. Proposed amendments expand the range of protected attributes in the Act to include irrelevant criminal record, physical features and those subjected to domestic and family violence and homelessness.

It adds that: “Employers and certain organisations will have a duty to proactively take reasonable and proportionate measures to eliminate discrimination, sexual harassment, vilification and victimisation. The Queensland Human Rights Commission will be given new powers and functions, including a regulatory approach to support compliance with the new duties and obligations.”

The ACL has called on the government to leave religious institutions to determine the substance of sound theology and protect the rights of religious schools to continue providing the best education in the state.

In a detailed explanation the ACL writes: “The Queensland Government want the right to decide if a position in a Christian school requires a person who conforms to the faith of the organisation, or whether it sits outside that purview. Their new Act would prohibit faith-based schools and organisations from the right to select staff who align with their religious belief, unless it is deemed that observance of the religion is a genuine occupational requirement.”

”A science teacher is used as an example of someone who would not be understood to have a genuine occupational requirement to be an adherent of their faith. The Queensland Government would provide a ‘non-exhaustive list’ of factors that would guide a religious school or organisation as to whether their requirements are ‘reasonable’ and ‘appropriate.’”

“This entirely misses the point of Christianity which is a lived faith – we teach by word and life and example. Every subject in a school curriculum is relevant to a Christian worldview, not just chapel or religious instruction classes,” the ACL continued.

“Christianity is a living faith. It is not something that can be privatised, or sectioned, excluded in our workplace and educational institutions. Christian beliefs shape our values, our character and our convictions in every area of life.”

“In their discussion paper the government say they want to strike the right balance, and yet go on to state that, “in order to protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of others, the freedom to manifest religion or belief (which includes through religious instruction, worship, observance and practice) may be subject to restriction.”

“It’s important that we let the Queensland Government and the Queensland Human Rights Commission that there is no hierarchy of human rights. All human rights have equal status,” the ACL declared.

“The government seem intent on restricting freedom of religion in our state. And yet, research over the past decade in disciplines like psychology, sociology, law, theology, political science and international relations clearly show that, across the globe, religious freedom is strongly aligned with less militarisation and conflict, higher socioeconomic status for women, improved economic outcomes and better health outcomes,” the ACL concluded.

The draft bill has been released for consultation and has only given Queenslanders until March 22 to make submissions. Details about how to make submissions can be found on the ACL website.