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Don’t be silent: the time to protect the freedom of religious schools is now

If the Australian Law Reform Commission gets its way, Catholic and other faith-based schools could be forced to employ staff who are antagonistic to a school’s religious teachings and mission. Think it can't happen? Look again, writes Dr Kevin Donnelly

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Catholic students participate in a Mass for Catholic education in 2022. Christian advocates are increasingly concerned at government overreach into core religious activities and teachings. A consultation paper issued by the Australian Law Reform Commission looks set to pave the way for religious freedom to effectively be erased in Christian schools, writes Dr Kevin Donnelly. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

With the Australian Law Reform Commission calling for responses to its consultation paper regarding religious freedom for schools and other educational institutions it’s urgent all those committed to religious freedom and freedom of conscience provide feedback (the deadline is 24 February and details are provided here.

One of the most fundamental and essential characteristics of democratic, free and open societies like Australia is the right to freedom of religion and freedom of conscience.  Such freedoms are critical to ensure citizens are able to live and act according to their convictions and beliefs free of unjustified state control and intervention.

Religious freedom is protected by international agreements like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.

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Christianity under attack here

It shouldn’t surprise that one of the first acts of totalitarian dictatorships since the time of the French Revolution in 1789 and the Russian Revolution of 1917 is to cancel religious beliefs and to victimise, punish and imprison any who refuse to submit to the power of the State.

More recent examples of religious persecution include Muslim Uyghurs and Christians in China, Buddhists in Tibet, Cops in Egypt, Muslim Rohingyas in Burma and Christians in the Middle East.

As noted by Wanda Skowronska in her chapter in Cancel Culture And The Left’s Long March, the sad fact is Christianity is the religion facing the greatest threat internationally where godless regimes use extreme violence, intimidation and coercion to destroy religious faith.

While not as extreme or dangerous as overseas examples, religion, especially Christianity, is also under attack in Australia.  Examples include Israel Folau and Margaret Court attacked for opposing same-sex marriage and the Brisbane Christian principal pressured to resign because his school asked prospective students if they were female or male.

The threat to Christian schools: Israel Folau is just one example of how Christians are increasingly paying the price for their faith. Women’s tennis legend Margaret Court is another. Photo: AAP

Other examples include Andrew Thorburn resigning as the CEO of the Hawthorn AFL club because he belonged to a conservative Christian Church and the Victorian government legislating to stop those with religious beliefs warning young people about the dangers of gender changing puberty blockers and surgery.

Religious freedom and freedom of conscience especially relate to the right parents have to enrol their children in schools that embody their religious morals and beliefs.  In an increasingly absolutist secular state where government schools forsake Christian virtues parents must be free to choose.

It is only in religious schools dedicated to educating and imbuing students with the tenets of their faith that parents have any chance of their children being properly taught according to their wishes.

International agreements endorse parents’ rights regarding their children’s education. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, for example, calls on signatories “to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children (is) in conformity with their own convictions”.

The-then NAB Group Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director Andrew Thorburn addresses the NAB’s 2018 AGM. He survived just 24 hours as CEO of AFL club Essendon before being forced to resign for his faith. Photo: AAP Image/Ellen Smith
Christian education next in line? The-then NAB Group Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director Andrew Thorburn addresses the NAB’s 2018 AGM. Mr Thorburn survived just 24 hours as CEO of AFL club Essendon before being forced to resign for his  Christian faith. Photo: AAP Image/Ellen Smith

Currently, while not fully satisfactory as religious freedom is an intrinsic right and not something granted at the whim of the state, religious schools and institutions are exempted from fully conforming to equal opportunity and anti-discrimination laws.

Religious schools are free to employ staff and enrol students “in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs and teachings of a particular religion or creed… (and) to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion or creed”.

Schools are also free to enact a curriculum, while cognizant of the state mandated curriculum, that is imbued and respects their unique Christian nature and the need to evangelize.  The proposals put forward by the ALRC in its consultation paper, if they are legislated, will remove such freedoms.

As a result, Catholic and other faith-based schools could be forced to employ staff who are antagonistic to a school’s religious teachings and mission

As a result, Catholic and other faith-based schools could be forced to employ staff who are antagonistic to a school’s religious teachings and mission.  In addition, schools could be forced to teach radical neo-Marxist programs like the gender fluidity Safe Schools program.  A program that teaches students girls can be boys and boys can be girls.

Schools acting according to the God given nature of human sexuality (Male and Female He Created Them) could also be forced to enrol students who actively and publicly oppose the Church’s teachings in areas like transgenderism.

Evidence that this will occur are the policies of groups hostile to religious schools acting according to their faith such as the Australian Education Union and the activists responsible for the Educate Don’t Discriminate website.

The Victorian Branch of the AEU argues “No school should have the right to turn away or discriminate against LGBTIQ students or teachers”.  Those responsible for the Educate Don’t Discriminate website also argue all schools, government and non-government, must unconditionally embrace LGBTIQA+ students.

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