Christian schools in the Northern Territory face an uncertain future after its Parliament passed major amendments to anti-discrimination laws.
They have removed an exemption allowing faith-based schools to refuse to hire staff who do not agree with their values and ethos.
Schools can no longer legally discriminate against staff and students if they disagree with their religious beliefs, sexuality and gender identity.
The anti-discrimination laws go further than those in any other Australian jurisdiction.
The Bishop of Darwin Charles Gauci has previously threatened to close down all 18 Catholic schools in the Top End if the amendments were passed.
The Christian Schools Association has also voiced concerns that it is an existential threat to faith-based schools.
Its NT chief executive Phoebe Van Bentum told the ABC the reforms would “completely remove the protections for religious schools to employ people of the same belief”.
Chief Minister Natasha Fyles defended the legislation saying: “We are putting equality into our workplaces and we are ensuring that those vulnerable Territorians, when they are vilified, that they have protection.”
Christian groups in the NT have criticised their Labor government for removing the exemption from the bill only after the public consultation period ended.
The Opposition Country Liberal Party said the bill “erodes freedom of speech and freedom of religion”.
It has vowed to overturn the legislation if elected in 2024.
The Australian Christian Lobby’s National Director for Politics Wendy Francis observes: “The NT Government has broken ranks with the Federal Labor Government, revealing a biased and hostile attitude against people of faith.”
“The NT Bill forces religious schools to hire staff who do not adhere to the school’s beliefs. This is in direct opposition to Attorney General Mark Dreyfus’s public statement this month that religious schools can continue to build a community of faith by giving preference, in good faith, to persons of the same religion as the educational institution in the selection of staff.“
“The Bill also prohibits any act that “is reasonably likely … to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or group of people”, meaning a person could find themselves in trouble for merely expressing their opinion in an email or social media post if it offends someone.”
“Territorians will not forget this overreach by the Labor Government at the next election or the welcome commitment by the NT Opposition Leader Lia Finocchiaro to repeal the discriminatory elements of this bill”.
Ms. Francis called on the Albanese government to “immediately deliver a Religious Discrimination Bill to protect every Australian’s right to freedom of association, religion and speech.”