The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) released a consultation paper on Jan. 27 outlining its inquiry into religious, educational institutions, and anti-discrimination laws. The Terms of Reference require the ALRC to develop proposals for protections against discrimination of students and staff while ensuring that religious educational institutions “can continue to build a community of faith.” However, on Feb. 13, a letter signed by the leaders of all major faiths addressed to the federal Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus conveying their “deep disappointment” with the proposed reforms.
The paper outlines four legislative propositions which would allow religious schools and colleges to still teach religious doctrines or beliefs on sex and sexuality and require their staff to do so. Preferencing in the “selection, appointment, and promotion” (not termination) of staff can only occur where teaching religion is a “genuine requirement” of the position, and the differential treatment is “proportionate to the objective of upholding the ethos of the religious institution.” However, no consideration may be given to staff behaviour, views or identity relating to sexual activity, orientation, or gender identity. Moreover, staff at faith-based schools can be required not to “actively undermine” the ethos of their employer, but no criteria relating to sexual activity or orientation or gender identity can be imposed.
Effectively, this means that religious schools would be forced to employ not just nominal adherents, but individuals actively at odds with the teachings that underpin the special ethos of those schools, or face legal penalties. Schools may preference a staff member who will teach the school’s beliefs around sexuality—but only if they can present other alternative views. The ALRC is thus proposing to force religious schools to teach other moral and sexual codes, and they must be promoted as viable alternatives, substituting the ALRC’s beliefs on gender and sexuality for those of a faith-based school. What is more, staff would not have to live the faith, nor even hold the faith, as long as they do not “actively undermine” the faith.
The ALRC’s interpretation would be a legal nightmare given the unreasonable test of determining what would constitute “teaching, observance or practice of religion being, genuinely, a part of the role.” Further, the approach of the ALRC reflects a total misunderstanding of faith, in that you can apparently “not actively undermine” the religion in your teaching, your way of engaging with students, your life in the staffroom or the department building, but live completely the opposite of what the school teaches.
The new draconian regime proposed by the ALRC to curtail religious freedom thus bears all the hallmarks of an authoritarian state. It represents an attack on freedom of religion in general and a form of reverse discrimination by effectively denying parents the right to send children to schools with religious teachings in accordance with their religious and moral convictions, which is enshrined in international law. There is also the potential for the reforms proposed by the ALRC for religious schools to be applied to other religious institutions.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.