Federal Protections for Religious Freedom Needed More Than Ever

3 December 2021

The passage later this afternoon of the Equal Opportunity (Religious Exceptions) Amendment Bill 2021 through the Victorian Parliament demonstrates why the Commonwealth’s Religious Discrimination Bill is absolutely critical for people of faith.

‘The Victorian Government has introduced the greatest burden on religious freedom of any government in Australia,’ said Mark Spencer, Director of Public Policy for Christian Schools Australia, ‘a burden described rightly in the debate in the Legislative Council as “so narrow as to be non-existent in practical application”.’ [Ms BATH (Eastern Victoria) (14:04)]

‘We agree that the amendments “show a fundamental misunderstanding of education and schools”, the true nature of which was wonderfully captured by Mrs McArthur when she indicated –

“A school is not the simple sum of every maths teacher plus every science teacher plus every geography teacher, the product of subject knowledge they impart in every individual lesson. This is a depressingly reductive view. … The character and culture of a school comes from its customs, traditions and values, from the personalities, interests and values of its teachers and its pupils, and often from its long history. This is what parents want”.’ [Mrs McARTHUR (Western Victoria) (14:33)]

The United Nations Human Rights Committee has made clear that(emphasis added) –
“… the practice and teaching of religion or belief includes acts integral to the conduct by religious groups of their basic affairs, such as freedom to choose their religious leaders, priests and teachers, the freedom to establish seminaries or religious schools and the freedom to prepare and distribute religious texts or publications."[General Comment 22]

‘The Bill passed today fundamentally attacks the rights of parents and people of faith to operate schools and religious bodies, rights clearly protected in international law,’ Mr Spencer said.

‘In the Government’s own words, the Bill will affect the employment of ‘priests, ministers, rabbis, imams or other members of a religious order’ – going to the heart of faith communities.’

‘If there was any doubt as to why the Commonwealth’s Religious Discrimination Bill was sorely needed, that was erased today,’ said Mr Spencer.

ENDS

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Mark Spencer

Director of Public Policy

Christian Schools Australia

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About Christian Schools Australia

Christian Schools Australia is the largest association of Christian schools in the country and serves schools in 180 locations, supporting some 10,000 staff and more than 70,000 students across Australia. CSA is part of a global ACSI network of approximately 24,000 schools, educating more than 5.5 million students in over 100 countries world-wide.