An inclusive church in Brisbane is among the religious organisations to strongly reject expanding faith-based schools’ ability to discriminate against gay students and teachers.
The review panel’s report, which was delivered to the federal government in May but hasn’t been released, has reportedly recommended amendments to the federal Sex Discrimination Act that have been opposed by LGBTIQ advocates.
Reverend Alex Pittaway, Senior Pastor of Brisbane’s Metropolitan Community Church, said he attended a homophobic Christian school in Sydney which expelled a student for being gay.
“It’s hard enough as a high schooler realizing that you’re gay, let alone realizing you’re that your school can expel you, your church can reject you and your parents can throw you out on the street,” he said.
“I had no choice about going to [a homophobic Christian school]. I also had no choice when I was the victim of endless homophobic bullying from students and teachers who suspected I was gay.
“We need laws protecting vulnerable LGBTI kids in schools. It is unfortunate that these schools leave behind the inclusive love of Jesus by viciously defending their right to expel on the grounds of sexuality.”
Pittaway said he had spoken to Queensland Minister for Education Grace Grace about changing current state laws allowing religious schools to discriminate against LGBTIQ staff, but had seen little success.
He also called on Brisbane Liberal MP Trevor Evans to stand up for the LGBTIQ community in the federal parliament and fight moves to weaken anti-discrimination protections for schools.
‘No rational or religious reason to discriminate’
Uniting Network Australia, the Uniting Church’s LGBTI group, also rejected the findings in a statement on Wednesday.
“We call on state governments to wind back discrimination measures already in place at the state level impacting LGBTI staff and students,” the group said.
“To permit an already vulnerable young person to be thrown out of a religious school as they become aware of their identity is not in the best interest of children and is likely to add to the already unacceptably high rates of depression, self-harm and suicide of young LGBTI people.
“We also see no rational or religious reason to discriminate against LGBTI staff in religious schools except in the limited case of school chaplains and teachers for the specific religious teaching.
“There is no justification for the exclusion of LGBTI teachers in core curriculum areas such as Maths, Science, English or support staff and school caretakers.”
The Uniting Network also noted that the government this week announced an inquiry into mental health programs in Australia.
The group warned that entrenching the ability to discriminate “will continue to create mental health issues within the LGBTI community and in particular younger LGBTI people.”
“In our Christian context, Jesus gave two underpinning commandments, to Love God, and to Love One Another,” they said.
“This proposed action is providing religious, and in our context Christian schools, to disobey Jesus’ clear objective, as this form of discrimination shows that those schools will not love one another.”
Last month the Uniting Church of Australia became the first of the three major Australian Christian denominations to endorse same-sex marriage.
‘Catholic view of marriage’
In a submission to the Ruddock review, peak body 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,” the group wrote.
“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.”
Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne Denis Hart suggested last August that staff at Catholic schools and hospitals may face the sack if they took part in a same-sex marriage ceremony.
“I would be very emphatic that our schools, our parishes exist to teach a Catholic view of marriage,” he said at the time.
“Any words or actions which work contrary to that would be viewed very seriously.
“Our teachers, our parish employees are expected totally to uphold the Catholic faith and what we believe about marriage.”
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