Monica Doumit: The new State of hostility takes shape

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Daniel Andrews’ Victorian Labor Government is moving relentlessly to eliminate religious freedoms for Christians.Photo: AAP, James Ross

Victoria leads the way in implementing laws to ensure
Christians and their churches have fewer and fewer rights

It’s hard not to feel for our Victorian brothers and sisters at the moment.

As the community transmission numbers appear to stabilise here in NSW, they appear to still be on the rise in Victoria and anxieties are obviously high.

What was supposed to be a two-week short, sharp lockdown has now been a two-month lockdown. On their authorised trips to the supermarket, Victorians will find Christmas puddings and other festive items on sale; a vivid reminder that another year has been lost to lockdown. The protests seen in recent weeks demonstrate a community at tipping point.

In such an environment, one would expect that any good Government would be primarily focused on the physical and mental health of its citizens and then on recovering an economy so badly damaged by more than 18 months of rolling lockdowns. But that wouldn’t be Daniel Andrews’ Victoria, would it?

It is hard to characterise these proposed laws as anything other than an attack on our institutions and an attempt to strip them of their religious identity.

A fortnight ago, just as Victoria was coming to the end of the sixth week of its sixth lockdown, the Victorian Government made an announcement: it would seek to pass a law that would remove most of the limited religious freedom protections that exist in that state.
These changes, if passed, would mean that Catholic and other faith-based institutions would not be allowed to ‘discriminate’ at all on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status or lawful sexual activity.

An organisation would also be stripped of the right to insist that its staff share the faith of the institution, other than those few selected staff members whose roles the Government deems ‘inherently require’ religious belief and practice. The Church will retain the right to select who it ordains as Priests, admits to seminaries and convents, and serves in various liturgies.

This appears to be just slightly more freedom than is available in Communist China, where Bishops need to be approved by the State, so I guess we can be grateful for that. Played out, what do these proposed laws look like in practice?

Most Catholic schools’ staff won’t have to be Catholic under proposed laws in Victoria. PHOTO: Freepik

At the moment, Catholic schools are allowed to preference Catholic teachers and other staff for employment. But with the Government saying this will only be allowed for those roles where religion is an ‘inherent requirement’ of the role, what they are saying is that schools will soon only be allowed to insist that its Principal, Vice-Principal and Religious Education Co-Ordinator are Catholic: the faith of the maths teacher, the science teacher, the history teacher, the receptionist and others will be deemed as irrelevant to the running of the school.

Social welfare organisations like the St Vincent de Paul Society would likely also be stripped of the right to prefer Catholic staff and volunteers, turning such formidable Catholic outreach services into what Pope Francis has described as ‘compassionate NGOs.’

We know that having all Catholic staff in our institutions is difficult with a decline in both belief and practice, but we should still be entitled to seek a ‘critical mass’ of staff who share the organisation’s ethos so that they can maintain their Catholic identity. A strong, Catholic identity for our institutions is especially important in a culture which is less and less religiously literate and dominated by a political and commentariat class increasingly hostile to religion.

It is hard to characterise these proposed laws as anything other than a direct attack on our institutions and an attempt to strip them of their religious identity: the same religious identity that inspires so many people to work in them and others to seek out their services.
That’s the religion requirement. I also want to touch briefly on the new prohibition on discrimination against staff on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, particularly in our schools.

What it would look like in practice

There are some who might argue that having same-sex attracted teachers is no big deal because kids are exposed to same-sex relationships and transgender issues in popular media so it is hardly scandalous.

But suppose your child or grandchild has started kindy at the local Catholic primary school and, part way through Term 2, your child or grandchild’s male teacher decides he wants to transition to living and presenting as a woman. Under the law, the children will be instructed to start calling him ‘Miss’ immediately, and parents will be left to explain to their youngsters why ‘sir’ is now wearing dresses.

For all the talk about inclusivity and non-discrimination, should parents who enrol their children at a Catholic primary school be forced to introduce these concepts to five-year-olds?

While everyone else in Victoria is distracted by rising case numbers, lockdowns, protests, earthquakes and more, the Andrews Government remains laser-focused on its progressive and anti-faith agenda. Never waste a good crisis, right Dan?

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