On Jan. 27, the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) released a consultation paper on its inquiry into religious, educational institutions and anti-discrimination laws.
The Terms of Reference outlined in the paper require the ALRC to develop proposals for protection against discrimination of students and staff while ensuring that religious educational institutions “can continue to build a community of faith.”
The ALRC paper outlines four legislative propositions. While providing that religious schools and colleges can still teach religious doctrines or beliefs on sex and sexuality, and require their staff to do so, these tenets risk being undermined.
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.”
In making these decisions, 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.
The ALRC is therefore proposing to force religious schools to teach other moral and sexual codes, and they must be promoted as viable alternatives.
In essence, administrators will 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 else they face legal penalties.
The effect of these propositions will severely limit the ability of faith-based schools to respect their own beliefs and ethos.
Religious leaders also warn this could become a legal nightmare given the unreasonableness of trying to work out what constituted the teaching 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 of a school even if a teacher lives their personal life in a way that completely contradicts how they engage and teach.
So faith becomes an abstract set of ideas that you can intellectually assent to, and that’s about it.
He pointed out that the ALRC’s proposal means “you could have the situation where someone is required to teach the Ten Commandments saying 'You shall not commit adultery,' but then can also say: 'I don’t personally believe that and I’m having an affair with the science teacher.'”
The proposals also represent an attack on freedom of religion in general and a form of reverse discrimination.
There is also the potential for the reforms to be applied to other religious institutions. For example, the Catholic Church, along with several other Christian denominations, run services ranging from schools to aged care facilities, hospitals, and social support.
Will the ALRC presume to tell them whether or not their religious identity should be a factor in managing employment matters, which is now the case in Victoria?
The new regime by the ALRC is draconian and chips away at already weakening religious freedoms.