In the past few weeks, the issue of religious freedom has been debated strongly in the media, with the focus on whether faith-based schools should be allowed to continue to employ people of their faith; to teach their faith; and to receive government funding.
Despite a mandate to ensure religious schools can continue to build a community of faith, the Australian Law Reform Commission’s (ALRC) proposals seriously encroach on the ability of faith-based schools to do so in an authentic way.
The exemptions in anti-discrimination law currently say that it is not unlawful for faith-based schools to preference the employment of staff of their faith, or those willing to support the ethos of the school.
The ALRC’s proposals, if adopted, so severely limit the ability of schools to operate and teach according to their religious beliefs, that it makes a mockery of the authentic nature of a religious school.
To be very clear, Catholic schools do not, and are not seeking to discriminate, against individuals based on their personal attributes such as sexuality and gender identity. However, we do want to ensure that those who work and learn in our schools are supportive of a Catholic education.
There have been calls in the public arena to say if religious schools want to teach their faith they shouldn’t receive public funding.
International law upholds the right of every child to receive a free, compulsory education. Catholic school parents, who are taxpayers, make a substantial contribution to their ‘free’ education, so they can choose a faith-based school for their children.
International law protects religious belief and the ability to manifest this through parent’s right to educate children in a school that aligns with their values and belief and by enabling the establishment of faith-based educational institutions.
International law also protects the rights of the individual to be free of discrimination based on their personal attributes. The two aren’t mutually-exclusive and can co-exist with an appropriate balancing of all protected rights.
We have, and will continue, to make our views known on this important issue for Catholic school communities and await the ALRC’s report to government and the government’s response.
National Catholic education executive director