Christian Schools Australia (CSA) is warning that a proposed federal Human Rights Act poses a threat to religious freedom.
The Australian reports CSA’s submission to the parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights inquiry into the nation’s Human Rights Framework argues religious protections for schools are being eroded.
The review was requested by federal Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus to determine whether the Framework remains fit for purpose or if improvements are needed. The Framework was introduced in 2010 with the key focus of ensuring that education and information about human rights is readily available. It included the establishment of the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the requirement that every bill presented to parliament is accompanied by a Statement of Compatibility with Australia’s international human rights obligations.
Mr. Dreyfus said the Government is committed to introducing legislation to:
- prevent discrimination against people of faith, including anti-vilification protections;
- act to protect all students from discrimination on any grounds; and
- protect teachers from discrimination at work, while maintaining the right of religious schools to preference people of their faith in the selection of staff.
According to The Australian, CSA submitted that the Framework was “lopsided and unbalanced” and had eroded protections for religious freedom. It claimed that protections granted to religious schools over hiring and firing policies are being weakened. It called the schools’ exemptions to anti-discrimination and equal opportunity laws a “poor mechanism.”
“This skewed understanding of human rights, prioritising non-discrimination above other equally important rights, has resulted in a diminution of protections for religious freedom and other fundamental freedoms. The failure to provide adequate national protections against religious discrimination is a blight on Australia’s record of commitment to human rights and compliance with our treaty obligations,” it wrote in its submission. It added that the Human Rights Commission’s model for a federal Human Rights Act does not provide sufficient protections.
The Australian Association of Christian Schools (AACS) called the Framework “ineffective,” saying it failed to implement protections for freedom of thought, conscience and religion. “AACS believes both the Human Rights Framework and Action Plan have been ineffective in monitoring and implementing Australia’s obligations for protecting the human right of freedom of thought, conscience and religion. State, territory and federal governments have been moving towards removing or restricting the ability of religious schools to choose their staff without threat of legal action,” the Association’s submission said.
A spokesman for Mr. Dreyfus said the government will carefully consider the committee’s report when it’s finalised next year.