I am presenting a paper on “Religious Freedom and Religious Schools” to a seminar sponsored by the Sydney Anglican Education Commission this evening. Those who are interested can download a copy of the paper here: Anglican Education Commission Pres Nov 8.
As foreshadowed in the press reports noted in my previous post, the ACT Government has now introduced a Bill designed to curtail the current religious freedom enjoyed by religious schools in the Territory to operate in accordance with their beliefs. The Discrimination Amendment Bill 2018 (ACT) is an unwise proposal and it is likely that it would be invalid as contrary to Commonwealth law.
Reports in the press note that that the ACT Government has announced its intention to “close a loophole” in discrimination laws by removing the capacity of religious schools to apply their religious beliefs in staffing decisions. The law being referred to is not a “loophole”, it is part of the fundamental architecture of discrimination law around Australia, with rare exceptions, and removing these provisions would not be a good idea.
I am presenting a briefing to some members of the Synod of the Sydney Anglican Diocese providing an overview of the leaked recommendations of the Ruddock Report, and the three most important areas of reform flowing from those recommendations. The full paper can be downloaded here, and my Powerpoint presentation is available here: Ruddock summary PP.
In short, I think the three most significant areas are:
1.Rec 15, that the Commonwealth enact a Religious Discrimination Act (and rec 2, on principles to follow in drafting such an Act);
2.Recs 5-8, that religious schools generally remain free to run their schools consistently with their religious ethos; and
3.Rec 9, concerning parents being given notice by schools of teaching which might be contrary to their beliefs.
In the paper I explain why these are important. I also provide a brief indication of my views on the other recommendations in an Appendix to the paper.
(This guest blog post was provided by Dr Alex Deagon, FHEA, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, Queensland University of Technology.)
On 17thOctober 2018 the Queensland Parliament passed the Termination of Pregnancy Bill 2018 (Qld). This law will, among other things, allow abortion on demand up to 22 weeks’ gestation, and abortion up to full term if approved by two independent doctors who agree it is appropriate taking into account all the circumstances. Setting aside for one moment the significant objections to the primary function of this legislation in general, a major point of contention with the bill was the extent to which health practitioners are able to refrain from providing abortion services because they have a conscientious objection.
The Greens party has introduced a bill into the Senate dealing with a number of the issues that have been discussed in recent days about the right of religious schools to conduct their education in accordance with their faith commitment. The so-called Discrimination Free Schools Bill 2018 would remove the capacity of religious schools (and, importantly, many other religious organisations) to make staffing decisions in line with their religious beliefs. It is a serious attack on religious freedom, and should be voted down by the Senate when debate resumes.
Following the recent debate about whether religious schools in Australia should be entitled to expel gay students on account of their sexual orientation alone (as to which all seem to be agreed the answer is, No), there is now a push to remove the freedom of religious schools to make staffing decisions on these issues. The ALP has announced that they want to pursue this issue when amendments relating to students are debated in Parliament. It even seems that some members of the LNP Government are unclear about the issue.
While “orientation alone” should not be a ground to expel or discipline students, removing the provisions that allow schools to make these decisions in relation to staff is a bad idea. Religious schools exist because parents want the option to see their children educated in an institution which supports their religious and moral worldview. Students do not just learn academic truths from their teachers; in many cases they admire them as people, and model themselves on the values their teachers live out. Hence someone who is committed, by their identification and activity, to opposing the moral framework of the school, is not suitable to be working as part of that school community. A fully committed member of the Greens would not be suitable to work in the office of the Conservatives. The same issues arise in relation to religious schools and same sex oriented teachers.