Media Release: Morrison Stonewalls on Student/Staff Protection in Religious Schools

Published by The Big Smoke 15.11.18.

Fear of a Federal election backlash may have panicked Prime Minister Scott Morrison into stalling legislation for LGBTI students and staff, says National Secular Lobby (NSL) ambassador and former ALP senator, Chris Schacht.

"It's absurd to blame Labor for last month's failure to bring in changes that would stop religious schools expelling gay students," Chris Schacht says. "What's really going on is this: the Morrison government fears voter anger over last-minute provisions that were inserted into the bill by the Attorney General, in consultation with Christian Schools Australia. This is a clear breach of trust between the major parties which Labor rightly rejected."

"The NSL calls on the government to remove this archaic right of religious schools to expel LGBTI children – and to end discrimination in the hiring and firing of staff not directly engaged in the teaching of religion."

Mr Schacht says there's "no valid reason” for teachers of subjects such as Maths, English or Physical Education to have a devout faith in the school's denomination -- and equally so for other school employees such as gardeners, cleaners and canteen staff. He says while it's clear that certain positions within schools require specific beliefs, it's unacceptable for this to apply to 100 percent of staff, especially in view of schools being taxpayer funded.

"The broader right here is for qualified teachers and staff, who don’t teach religious studies but who perform their jobs well without subscribing to the school's religion, to be protected from discrimination."

Further, the NSL agrees that school staff should broadly recognise and show support for the values and ethos of their employer, but points out that not subscribing to the school's faith does not compromise that support.

"It is a restrictive employment practice to enforce this 'our religion only' for school staff - especially when there are some indications that up to 40 percent of secondary students are now enrolled in private religious schools," says former Senator Schacht.

And while some Anglican schools lament the lack of a Bill of Rights to enshrine the freedom of religion, Mr Schacht emphasises that religious freedom is already broadly protected under Australia's adoption of ICCPR (the International Covenant of Civic and Political Rights), which states: Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

"But the ICCPR also limits the degree to which religions can 'manifest' themselves. And the NSL's view is that turning private religious schools into a taxpayer-funded 'closed shop' is a violation of this international law."

"There is no basis to the argument that discrimination in religious schools should remain until new laws are codified. Public condemnation erupted at the news that these religious privileges already exist and public disquiet may remain until the election if the government continues to hide the full Religious Freedom Review and its official response.

The NSL calls on the Morrison government to release this final report and to enact provisions to protect LGBTI students and staff in religious schools, an undertaking he explicitly gave on the 12th of October."


National Secular Lobby