Have Your Say About Possible Changes to Faith-Based Schools

By: Ben McEachen

Christian schools in Australia are under threat.

Key points:

  • “No school would be permitted to discriminate against students or staff based on those attributes protected by the Sex Discrimination Act (SDA),” the Australian Government said in a release.
  • Senator Cash said she had heard from education and religious leaders that they feel “under attack”
  • If you would like to raise your voice about the draft legislation, Senator Cash recommended communicating directly with the offices of Mark Dreyfus and Anthony Albanese.

According to Liberal Senator Michaelia Cash, “a very real and substantial reduction in existing legal and operational freedoms for religious education institutions” could occur.

Senator Cash is part of the “My Christian School” movement against the Federal Government’s proposed changes to Australia’s discrimination laws.

“Faith is something fundamental and is recognised as a human right,” Senator Cash said.

“It warrants protection at law and removing those protections, as the Albanese Government wants to do, takes people of faith backwards.”

What are the proposed changes?

In March, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced his Government had drafted two bills in response to a report by the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) on Religious Educational Institutions and Anti-Discrimination Laws.

The draft legislation is not yet publicly available but has been viewed by members of the Opposition, and some education and church leaders around Australia.

It is understood to be heavily informed by the ALRC report which recommends changes to how faith-based schools approach matters which can be contentious.

The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) puts it this way: “The ALRC’s recommendations would ensure that students and teachers are protected from discrimination on the basis of their sexuality, gender identity, marital or relationship status, or pregnancy – regardless of which school or educational institution they attend.”

“No school would be permitted to discriminate against students or staff based on those attributes protected by the Sex Discrimination Act (SDA),” the Australian Government said in a release.

Under Section 38 of the Sex Discrimination Act, there are provisions for faith-based schools to employ people who align with their beliefs and values.

The ALRC report recommends this section be repealed.

AHRC explain the ALRC report does also recognise “the right to freedom of religion and that religious schools should be able to preference the employment of people who share the same religion, where this is reasonably necessary and proportionate to the aim of building or maintaining a community of faith”.

The tension is evident.

As Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has indicated, any legislative changes which aim to prevent discrimination across all groups should not come at the cost of protection for people of various religions.

What does this mean for Christian schools?

“Schools are able to conduct themselves in accordance with their values and ethos; that is the protection currently given to a school – and that is what the Albanese Government wants to take away,” Senator Cash said in an interview.

Senator Cash said she had heard from education and religious leaders that they feel “under attack” when it comes to being able to operate their schools in accordance with tenets, beliefs and values.

“The ALRC recommendations – which the Government has adopted in the draft legislation I have – strip away the protections that allow religious schools to build and maintain a faith-based ethos.”

“This is all about parents sending their children to faith-based schools because they want them to be educated in an environment shaped by strong values.

“That would be denied, if this legislation goes through.

“Our laws should respect the rights of parents to make a choice.”

Senator Cash believed Australia’s discrimination laws already are robust enough for anyone claiming they have been discriminated against by a faith-based school.

Mark Spencer, Director of Public Policy for Christian Schools Australia (CSA) said that legislating the ALRC recommendations would be devastating for all faith-based schools.

“If this was adopted, it would be the epitaph on the grave of faith-based schools in Australia – it’s that serious,” Spencer said in an interview.

“This report, if it was adopted, would effectively have the government tell us what we can believe and what we can’t believe, when it comes to matters of sex, sexuality, gender identity, marital status, relationship status.”

What can you do?

Senator Cash has called upon the Federal Government to make public the draft legislation.

She said that failing to do so already undermined the consultation process and prevented concerned parties from having their say.

If you would like to raise your voice about the draft legislation, Senator Cash recommended communicating directly with the offices of Mark Dreyfus and Anthony Albanese.

“Write to the Prime Minister and say that you do not want him to take away your right, as a parent, in terms of how your child is educated,” Senator Cash said.

The “My Christian School” site also can help you take action, from contacting local Federal members to prayer and sharing stories of how faith-based schools have impacted you.


Article supplied with thanks to Hope Media.

Feature image: Photo by ROBIN WORRALL on Unsplash

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