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Christian Schools Australia defends right to hire and fire teachers over beliefs | Australia news

Submission to Ruddock review of religious freedom calls for ability to eject students






Christian Schools Australia called for ‘the right to select students’ in a submission to Philip Ruddock’s religious freedom review.
Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

Schools must retain the ability to hire and fire teachers and other staff based on their beliefs and adherence to religious codes, Christian Schools Australia has said.

It also called for “the right to select students”, including to eject them from a school community, in a joint submission with Adventist Schools Australia to the Ruddock religious freedom review.

During the marriage law postal survey campaign the Catholic church threatened to sack gay teachers, nurses and other staff if they engaged in civil same-sex weddings in breach of church doctrine.

Submissions from LGBTI organisations and Amnesty International called for a repeal or narrowing of religious exemptions to discrimination law, which the Rationalist Society called an example of “religious privilege”.

Christian Schools Australia warned that “removing the ability of Christian schools to employ staff who share the school’s values and beliefs would undermine the essential nature of the school”.

“If freedom of religion is to remain a legitimate hallmark of Australian education then the rights of school communities to operate in accordance with religious beliefs must be upheld.

“This must include the right to choose all staff based on their belief in, and adherence to, the beliefs, tenets and doctrines of the religion concerned.”

CSA proposed giving schools a power to choose staff by defining it as a legal form of “differentiation”, rather than merely an exemption to discrimination law.

It warned that existing exemptions were “narrow in scope” and did not necessarily allow religious organisations to deny their services or facilities based on belief nor to “separate from families” when their values did not accord with the school’s.

CSA took aim at Queensland’s anti-discrimination laws, which require that a religious objection must be an “inherent requirement” of the religion, and staff can only be discriminated against if they “openly act” in contravention of religious beliefs.

It warned that meant schools could not take any action against staff who “may have a fundamentally antithetical faith position” to the school.

Staff leading a “double life” undermines their duty of fidelity and good faith to the school and was a form of “duplicity and deceit” that was “not in anybody’s interests”, it said.

The CSA called for the creation of a new religious freedom commissioner in the Australian Human Rights Commission and for protections that mirror the amendments in the conservative Paterson same-sex marriage bill, including to guarantee free speech about what a marriage is and to secure religious organisations’ charitable status.

The National Council of Churches in Australia, in a submission written by its president, the Melbourne Anglican bishop Philip Huggins, said the right to freedom of religion was “in reasonable shape” in Australia.

But the submission said religious people had been subjected to more “verbal and physical abuse”, including Christians who supported the “no” case in the postal survey – which it compared to the abuse of Muslims after the 11 September terrorist attacks.

The NCCA recommended that the government consult about the benefits of a human rights bill and suggested a review of school curricula to counter “a growing level of religious ignorance in the Australian population”.

The LGBTI rights group Just Equal called for the abolition of all laws that allow discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status.

“This includes those provisions that allow discrimination and vilification by religious individuals and faith-based organisations such as schools, hospitals, welfare agencies and aged care facilities,” it said.

The Rationalist Society, which advocates for secularism, accused religious groups of seeking an “unfettered right to manifest [their] beliefs, even if this involves breaching the fundamental rights of others”.

A permanent, belief-based exemption to discrimination law “promotes and entrenches traditional prejudice and harm against women and LGBTI communities”, it said.

Amnesty International suggested a prohibition on religious vilification and the removal of an exemption that allows civil marriage celebrants who profess a religious faith to refuse to solemnise a marriage on religious grounds.

Amnesty International recommended that religious organisations, including educational institutions, in receipt of public funding be prohibited from “discriminating in the provision of those services in ways that would otherwise be unlawful”.

In January the deputy Labor leader, Tanya Plibersek, said Labor had “no plans … at the moment” to change discrimination law exemptions but downplayed the likelihood religious schools would sack staff over sexuality.

In November a Baptist school in Rockingham, Western Australia, sacked a relief teacher who revealed his sexuality in a Facebook post.


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