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Important rights at stake in schools

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Deputy head of the Thomas More Law School Dr Catherine Renshaw. PHOTO: ACU

Constant vigilance is necessary to ensure balance is struck between the right to religious freedom and the right to be free from discrimination in church-run schools, says Australian Catholic University’s Dr Catherine Renshaw.

In practice, religious schools negotiate questions of religion and respect for individual difference with sensitivity and compassion, Dr Renshaw said.

But the deputy head of the Thomas More Law School told The Catholic Weekly that the intersection of religious schools and human rights remains a pressing issue today as two important rights are at stake.

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“One is the right to religious freedom, which includes the freedom of religious schools to educate in accordance with religious beliefs or principles,” she said. “The other is the human right to be free from discrimination, which includes the right not to have negative decisions made about you because of your sex or sexuality.”

Related article: Religious freedom inquiry a ploy

“There is a fear among some that the goal posts have moved and that current laws are no longer capable of helping us navigate complex questions of faith and sexuality in the public sphere of education,” she said.

“It is important that we continue to reflect on whether our current laws and policies are still working towards achieving the ends we all want – a more tolerant, just, inclusive society.”

Dr Renshaw will speak at a conference to examine the challenging relationship between Catholic education and the law to be held in Sydney this month. The conference Titled Freedom, Autonomy and Responsibility, will be held at the North Sydney campus of Australian Catholic University from 22-24 May.

It will be jointly held by the Australian Catholic University, The Kellogg Institute for International Studies and the Institute for Educational Initiatives, University of Notre Dame (USA), the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education, and the European Association for Education Law and Policy.

Foundation professor of canon law Michele Riondino. PHOTO: ACU

It will also feature keynote speaker Fr Friedrich Bechina FSO, who is the undersecretary for the Holy See’s Congregation for Catholic Education.

ACU professor of Canon Law and Children’s Rights Michele Riondino will take up the theme in a global context.

The Catholic Church has always considered the educational dimension to be important and central, in every order and degree of schools,” he said.

“In particular, after the Second Vatican Council, the Church’s teaching has crystallised educational values in numerous documents such as the conciliar declaration Gravissimum Educationis and the apostolic constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae (1990) on Catholic universities, up to the recent Veritatis Gaudium.

“In all these documents the educational dimension is considered fundamental for achieving missionary and evangelisation goals to foster the progress of each person.”

For details see the conference website.

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