The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) has recently released a consultation paper on the “Religious Education Institutions and Anti-Discrimination Laws,” which proposes the near complete removal of any protections to these organisations. John Steenhof, principal lawyer at the Human Rights Law Alliance, has stated that these proposals, if made into law, will have radical, permanent consequences for Christian-ethos schools. In response, a group of more than 30 leaders from the Christian, Jewish, and Islamic faiths wrote a letter to Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus on Feb. 13 to express their concerns. These leaders warn that the proposals represent a “major blow to authentic faith-based education” and will force religious educational institutions to hire staff who “may not share or support the religious beliefs of the organisation.”
The ALRC paper postulates that religious educational institutions should not be allowed to discriminate against any staff (current or prospective) on the grounds of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or relationship status, or pregnancy. However, they should be allowed to give preference to prospective staff on religious grounds where the teaching, observance, or practice of religion is, genuinely, a part of the role.
Mark Durie, an Australian scholar in linguistics and theology, explains that for religious people, all actions can be considered to be worship. Religious educational institutions are set up, and funded, by members of a faith-based community in order to provide education in accordance with their beliefs. Therefore, religious people should have the same right as anybody else to freely associate and manage their institutions.
The consultation paper also displays a mindset which is uncomfortable with the existence of religious pluralism because it favours a dominant secular worldview. This should be a matter of concern for everyone who truly values social diversity and democracy, as the dull uniformity proposed by this paper is entirely inconsistent with the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights.
Thankfully, there is still hope that these extreme proposals could be rejected, as the ALRC is accepting written responses until Feb. 24. It is critical that we push back against these extreme proposals.