Here is a copy of the letter that I have written to my local MP today, Sharing my concerns over the religious discrimination bill that is to be presented before the parliament on Monday
I trust you are keeping well
I’m writing to express concerns relating to the proposal Labor is introducing to Parliament on Monday, regarding the Sex Discrimination Act and faith-based schools.
During the debate on marriage in September last year, you said that,
“I will be voting yes for marriage equality. There is a lot of talk from the ‘no’ campaign about how marriage equality will infringe on freedom of speech and freedom of religion. It’s simply untrue. Marriage equality will mean that couples of the same gender are allowed to be legally married in Australia. Nothing more, nothing less.”
Despite what anyone may have thought at the time, it is clear that this is not the case. Indeed at the time of the plebiscite debate, I appreciated the conversation I had with your chief-of-staff. I suggested to him that consequences will inevitably follow a change of marriage definition. For no society changes the definition of its bedrock institution without corollary changes flowing through the rest of our culture.
While it is important not to overstate the case, there have numerous repercussions reverberating across the landscape, from employees losing their jobs to Aussie battlers having their businesses boycotted. As you are also aware, currently before the Federal Parliament are a series of issues relating to religious schools.
I share your concerns over the Government’s slowness to publish their findings from the Ruddock review, however, I am also concerned by the solution Labor is bringing to the Parliament for debate on Monday.
With parts of the Ruddock Review leaked, the media grabbed sensationalist headlines about Christian schools expelling gay students. Of course, the reality is very different. Christian schools across the country came out, stating that they were not aware of this policy and they certainly did not support or practice it. One newspaper made inquiries around the nation and found the whopping sum total of schools who were expelling gay students to be zero. Recently I asked a teacher who works at a Christian school in Melbourne and they were stunned that the media was implying that this was a practice inside Christian schools.
I submit, in seeking to defend the welfare of LGBT students, this proposed legislation extends well beyond its intended purpose, and it will, in fact, have far-reaching consequences for all religious organisations, including schools, churches, and mosques.
Mark Fowler (Adjunct Associate Professor at Notre Dame Law School in Sydney) has written,
“On a plain reading, this would capture the Sunday morning sermon, the Friday kutbah at the mosque, a Buddhist meditation course, the children’s Sunday school, the midweek Bible study, the Friday night youth group talk. It is quite clear to both the preacher and the recipient in all of these exchanges that they are participating in an act of education that expands upon religious principles.”
Associate Professor Neil Foster has stated,
“Unfortunately, the amendments do much more than stop schools expelling students on the basis of their internal sexual orientation (a goal all sides of politics agree on.) They will have a serious impact on the ability of such schools, and other religious bodies, to operate in accordance with their religious beliefs. A more nuanced approach is needed.”
Their critique of the proposed amendments is concerning.
Without significant revision, this legislation will open the door to a myriad of serious legal and social challenges that will undermine the freedom of religious schools and indeed of any religious organisation.
If I may ask, do you believe that it is the purview of the State to influence and even alter the religious teaching of a Christian school or church? Should these institutions have the freedom to employ, teach, and practice their values? I trust so, but therefore, I ask that Labor reconsider the bill before it is tabled on Monday.
I remain thankful for the public education I received and I am also aware of how much this country is indebted to non-public schools. This proposed bill, whether intended or not, is an attack on the freedom to teach the values which are consistent with the religious convictions of the schools and beyond, and retain freedom for these organisations to employ staff who both affirm and will teach these values. Once again, it is imperative that the loophole which will extend the parameters of this bill into all religious institutions (including churches) needs to be closed.
I appreciate you taking the time to read my letter and I look forward to reading your response.