Last week the Daniel Andrews Government launched an extraordinary attack on religious freedom in Victorian Christian Schools and churches.
The State government has introduced a Bill – the Equal Opportunity (Religious Exceptions) Bill 2016 – to restrict the ability of religious bodies, charities, schools and educational institutions to employ staff according to their faith and ethos.
The stakes couldn’t be higher, reports Dan Flynn, the Victorian Director of the Australian Christian Lobby.
In fact, Christian schools and churches could be forced to hire people who are fundamentally opposed to what their community stands for.
If this were to happen it would be a terrible blow to religious freedom.
The Age has described this as a crackdown on our schools.
Christian Schools Australia chief executive Stephen O’Doherty said the proposed laws were a “draconian attack on religious freedom principles”.
“We feel that the Andrews government is the most anti-religious government we have seen in a long time,” he said.
Catholic Education Melbourne executive director Stephen Elder said it was important that Catholic schools had the freedom to employ staff who supported the Catholic faith.
“Those organisations want the staff to contribute to the faith ethos of the school, and to be a role model for those beliefs,” he said. “Certain expressions of sexuality could be in conflict with the ethos of a church or school.”
The Andrews Government seems determined to undermine parents’ choices and the distinctly Christian character and ethos of these schools.
The religious inherent requirement test applies to all religions including schools, churches and organisations – but not to political parties.
Political parties and organisations have similar freedom to discriminate against a job applicant or employee on the basis of their political belief or activity. For example, the ALP does not have to employ a card-carrying Liberal and vice versa and the Greens could sack someone who was a climate change denier. But the Bill does not limit that freedom of political employers or make them justify such actions to a human rights commission.
Likewise clubs for minority cultures have a freedom to refuse membership to people who don’t share attributes of the minority culture (e.g. the Fijian club can choose to exclude non-Fijians, and gay men’s clubs can choose to exclude straight men). Again the Bill does not limit that freedom of minority clubs or make them justify such actions to a human rights commission. Only religious bodies are targeted in this Bill.
We need to act fast and with urgency to influence our MPs on this important issue.