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Why I’m meeting with my federal MP image

Why I’m meeting with my federal MP

… about proposed legislation affecting ‘religious’ schools.

When your phone rings and it’s the school’s number, you always pay attention. And when it’s the Principal on the other end of the line, you know it must be serious. When that happened to me last week, I braced myself for the worst. 

But the serious issue that our Principal was calling me about was not concerning my children specifically. It was about something much broader that could affect every child in every Christian, church or ‘religious’ school across Australia.

The Principal of our children’s school was calling to invite me to join a small group of parents meeting with our federal Member of Parliament in a couple of weeks’ time to voice our views on some proposed changes to legislation concerning ‘religious educational institutions’. Knowing the profound significance of these proposed changes, I immediately agreed. Although I find the thought of speaking face-to-face with an MP extremely daunting, this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.

What are the proposed changes?

Under Australian law, ‘religious educational institutions’ are currently exempt from the Sex Discrimination Act (1984) (SDA), which prohibits individuals and organisations from discriminating against a person based on that person’s sex, marital or relationship status, pregnancy or, since 2013, their sexual orientation or gender identity.

These exemptions were put in place ‘in order to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion or creed’.1 In 2013, when sexual orientation and gender identity were added to the list of protected attributes, there was bipartisan support for keeping the exemptions in order to ‘protect the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief in respect of the new grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity’.

The current Federal Government has now committed to removing these exemptions to make it unlawful for religious educational institutions to ‘discriminate’ against students or staff based on their sex, marital or relationship status, pregnancy, sexual orientation or gender identity. At the same time, the Government wants to ensure that these institutions ‘can continue to build a community of faith by giving preference, in good faith, to persons of the same religion … in the selection of staff’.2

In some jurisdictions, such as Victoria, these kind of exemptions have already been removed, making it illegal in that state for a Christian school to fire—or refuse to employ—a person based on their sexual practice, gender identity or marital status. Queensland is proposing to prohibit a school from discriminating against an even wider group, including those doing ‘sex work activity’.

In order to bring Australian law into line with this, the Federal Government asked the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) to investigate whether their commitments were consistent with international human rights law. The ALRC delivered its recommendations in December, which, if implemented, would write the Government’s commitments into law.

The ALRC report admits that in seeking to ‘maximise’ the right of some teachers to work in religious schools, its recommended reforms ‘may limit, for some people, the freedom to manifest religion or belief in community with others, and the parental liberty to “ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions”'.3

Why are Christian schools concerned?

It’s important to state that Christian schools have never wanted the right to expel students based on their sexual orientation or other protected attributes. Patrick Parkinson explains:

‘Students are not expelled from faith-based schools because they come out as LGBTIQ+. Faith-based schools have made clear to successive governments that they neither want nor need the legal right to expel same-sex attracted students.’

Christian schools do want to keep the SDA exemptions concerning staff, so that they can hire staff who not only profess the Christian faith, but also seek to live in line with the Bible’s teaching, including on matters of sexuality. At any school, teachers do more than teach—they are role models in their students’ lives.

Christian schools want the right to preference staff who hold to the traditional Christian view that sexual activity should be reserved for the covenant relationship of man–woman marriage, and that all Christians, whatever their sexual orientation, should commit themselves to self-control and abstinence outside of that relationship. They want to preference staff who believe that our biological sex is a gift from God to be cherished and not ‘changed’.

The Government’s commitments, now recommended by the ALRC, fundamentally misunderstand the nature of faith. When a school preferences staff who share the faith they teach (which the Government accepts as necessary), they also want to preference staff who live out that faith in their private lives (which the Government wants to prohibit).

This is why representatives from Australian Christian schools have called the ALRC recommendations ‘a direct attack on faith and freedom of belief in Australia’, saying that if the recommendations are implemented, ‘Christian education as we know it will cease to exist’.

Why are parents choosing Christian schooling?

A growing number of parents are choosing Christian schooling for their children; between 2012 and 2022, enrolments grew by 50 per cent

Our family is one of those statistics. We pulled our three oldest children out of another school when, in the name of ‘inclusion and diversity’, it began to promote radical gender ideology (the idea that children can be ‘born in the wrong body’) and encourage students to question their gender and label their sexuality. 

We moved our children to a Christian school knowing that the staff would teach and model the traditional view of marriage, sexuality and gender that we are seeking to pass on to our children. So far, we have been very impressed by this aspect of our new school.

And we are not alone. In a recent survey of 8500 parents from 101 Christian schools across Australia:
•    3 in 4 parents reported that traditional Christian values and beliefs was very high to most important regarding their schooling choice.
•    2 in 3 parents said that Christian teaching was of high to extreme importance.
•    1 in 2 parents only ever considered a Christian school for their child. 

What can concerned parents do?

To me it seems that the very thing that makes a Christian school distinct—the fact that its teachers believe, teach and live out the Christian faith—is now under threat.

In the words of Mark Spencer from Christian Schools Australia,

‘Hundreds of thousands of Australian parents choose to send their children to faith-based schools because they value this type of education. They enrol their children knowing that our teachers and staff are aligned with our beliefs and that students will be taught according to our beliefs. If these recommendations are adopted, parents would lose this right, and the government has no right to remove this choice.’

God willing, I’ll be able to talk about all this with our federal Member of Parliament in two weeks’ time. If the proposed changes concern you, I encourage you to get in touch with yours as well.

You can also sign up to the My Christian School website, which shares testimonies and research into the positive impact of Christian schooling.

Freedom for Faith also publishes regular updates and campaigns on this issue.

No matter what happens, let’s commit ourselves to raising children who have a positive, biblical view of sexuality and gender, who know that they have been fearfully and wonderfully made by God to live out his good purposes for them in this world.

References

1. ALRC Summary Report, p. 8.

2. ALRC Summary Report, p. 3.

3. ALRC Summary Report, p. 15.
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Harriet Connor is the Content Editor for Growing Faith and the author of Families in God's Plan: 12 Foundational Bible Studies and Big Picture Parents: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Life (Wipf and Stock, 2017). She lives on the Central Coast of NSW with her husband and four sons.

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