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Is Labor Destroying Christian Education?

by | Mon, Mar 18 2024

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The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) is expected to table a report in Federal Parliament this week which will call for the removal of religious protections for Christian schools in the Sex Discrimination Act.

Director of Policy and Research at the Australian Christian Lobby Christopher Brohier believes the report’s “going to probably recommend, in all likelihood, the removal of the right of Christian schools and Christian faith-based institutions to employ according to faith.”

He told Vision Radio: “You’ve got to live the faith. If you want to have Christian education, you’ve got to have Christian fair dinkum teachers,” adding that the lack of religious protection will remove the ability of schools to operate according to their ethos. “What that means is that pride clubs [and] rainbow clubs would have to be allowed in Christian schools. So they want to destroy Christian education.”

The Australian reports that an alliance of the nation’s most senior spiritual leaders warned Labor last year that the removal of the exemptions would prevent schools from preferencing the employment of teachers and other staff who shared their beliefs and faith. Christian, Jewish and Islamic leaders said this would threaten religious education in Australia.

Mark Spencer, Director of Public Policy for Christian Schools Australia, told the newspaper that: “We need the ability to employ staff who share our ­beliefs and that includes our ­beliefs around gender, sexuality and marriage”. He warned the removal of the protections would “create a massive problem for Christian schools” and risk setting up a “lawyers’ ­picnic”.

Current exemptions allow religious educational institutions to preference teachers who are of the same faith as the school when hiring staff. They also allow schools to insist that students adhere to the doctrines, tenets, beliefs and teachings of a particular religion.

The Australian has been informed the ALRC report will propose a future religious discrimination bill to provide new protections allowing schools to maintain their “spiritual character.” It writes that: “There are concerns that any new protections in a ­future religious discrimination bill would only allow schools to preference staff in roles where the observance or practice of religion was genuinely a part of the role.”

Executive Officer for the Australian Association of Christian Schools Vanessa Cheng said that a religious discrimination bill would not be as effective if it was accompanied by the removal of the exemptions, because it would be less clear when a school was exercising its rights to preference staff on religious grounds, leaving faith-based educators more open to claims of sexual discrimination. “At the end of the day, schools want to focus on education and not litigation. And we don’t want to be tied up in the courts defending claims because there is confusion, ” she said.

Christian schools face losing their ability to preference the hiring of teachers on religious grounds when it comes to essential subjects such as maths, science, history and English. Shadow Attorney General Michaelia Cash told Sky News there is a real risk that “religious schools will not be able to conduct themselves in ­accordance with their values”.