A submission from Attorney-General Michaelia Cash’s department confirms everyone’s suspicions. That the Religious Privileges Bill – sorry, Discrimination Bill – will allow religious schools to fire teachers for their views on sexuality.
Both the Sydney Anglican church and the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference defended that ‘right’.
The submission from the Attorney-General’s department said the bill ‘would allow a religious school to consider a person’s religious beliefs about issues such as sexuality’ if part of the school’s religious ‘doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings’.
In its submission, the Sydney Anglican church defended the school that previously fired teacher Stephanie Lentz. Reportedly, the unnamed religious school sacked the teacher for her belief ‘that a person can be Christian and gay’. The Sydney Anglican church claimed that was different to firing her for her sexuality.
Australian Catholic Bishops Conference president Archbishop Peter Comensoli told a hearing into the bill that parents wanted ‘a good education in the context of Catholic faith and culture’ for their children. He insisted schools should remain free to employ staff ‘in accordance with the ethos of the organisation’.
Religious Privileges Bill
However, other organisations disagreed.
Christine Cooper from the Independent Education Union said many teachers were living in fear. Those with lifestyles at odds with the doctrine upheld by their employers feared dismissal. The union said a survey found almost a third of teachers at Catholic schools previously experienced discrimination related to their marital, relationship or parental status. One-sixth of teachers at independent schools experienced the same discrimination.
LGBTQI teachers said they felt pressured to hide the truth about their personal lives.
“The element of fear that exists in our schools can’t be ignored, in these schools where employers seek to use discriminatory practices.”
One school denied a teacher time off to care and then grieve for their dying partner. Other teachers said religious organisations discriminated against them as single-parents, for undergoing IVF or returning to work months after childbirth.
Forget the promise to safeguard students – that will wait
The Attorney-General’s department also telegraphed a change to the PM’s earlier promise to safeguard LGBTQI students. Scott Morrison reportedly agreed to safeguards for students in exchange for support from Liberal moderates.
However, Michaela Cash’s department says exemptions in the bill for religious schools will remain pending an Australian Law Reform Commission inquiry. The commission is due to report back 12 months after the bill passes.
Morrison currently wants the bill passed before the election, but various stakeholders remain unhappy.
Chief executive of the Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia, Beth Blackwood, told the hearing that the organisation supports the ‘move to protect religious freedom in Australia’. However, she added, “We don’t fully support the bill in its current form.”
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