“Anti-discrimination” threat to our Christian schools

438

What would you do if the government said: Your schools may no longer employ only church members; they must be open to hiring people who don’t subscribe to your faith views and who reflect this in their lifestyle? That’s the direction in which reformed Christian schools are being pushed. Now, we have an opportunity to express our views on this in a personal questionnaire, but it must be done by this Friday. This article presents a very brief overview and includes some possible responses to the individual survey questions.

The questionnaire (survey) comes from the government’s Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) which was appointed to inquire into anti-discrimination laws as they apply to religious educational institutions, such as Christian schools. As the preamble to the questionnaire says, “Federal anti-discrimination laws prohibit discrimination against people on grounds including sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or relationship status, and pregnancy in a wide range of settings. However, these laws currently provide exceptions for religious educational institutions, including schools.” The use of the word “However” implies that the “exceptions for religious educational institutions” should be removed so that religious schools conform to the anti-discrimination laws.

To be sure, the wording of the Consultation Paper’s third proposal appears at first glance to allay concerns when it proposes to “allow religious schools to maintain their religious character by permitting them to:
* give preference to prospective staff on religious grounds where the teaching, observance, or practice of religion is part of their role (and it is not discriminatory on other grounds); and
* require all staff to respect the educational institution’s religious ethos
”.

The trouble is that whilst we believe that a teacher must be a member of the church because his or her faith governs every subject being taught, this is not a view shared by others. Indeed, the ALRC’s “Consultation Paper” points to the “Sex Discrimination Act” which narrows exemptions to:
“* the ordination, appointment, training, or education of ‘priests, ministers of religion or members of any religious order’;
* the selection of persons to perform functions in connection with, or otherwise to participate in, ‘any religious observance or practice’; and
* ‘any other act or practice of a body established for religious purposes … that conforms to the doctrines, tenets or beliefs of that religion or is necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion’
”. [i]
Notice that exceptions apply only to those who are directly engaged in religious practices (clergy, priests, ministers of religion). Whilst we would consider all our school staff, and especially our teachers, to be directly involved in religious practices, that’s not a view shared by others.

If I understand it well, our schools are currently exempted from such a narrowly defined requirement. However, if we lost that exemption, we would probably only be permitted to employ teachers who are church members to teach religious studies but could not restrict church membership to the teaching of core subjects (English, maths, science and HASS) and other subjects (art, sport, music, etc.). Why not? Because they are not, from a secular perspective, religiously determined subjects. What the government body (ALRC) is proposing is that if the applicant (for a teaching or some other staff position) has the basic qualifications (‘inherent requirement’) for the position, the school cannot disqualify the person just because he or she is not a church member.

We, however, believe that our faith, governed by the Truth (God’s Word), influences every aspect of our lives, and hence every subject that is being taught. Our schools have, over the years, developed a reformed curriculum in which every subject reflects this. Therefore, we need teachers who believe and are committed to nurturing the church’s children in the ways of the LORD and in subjection to Him in every subject taught. Each lesson is taught in the realisation that Christ is King of everything, and hence of every subject. As Abraham Kuyper famously said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!'” Moreover, it is not only the subject content, but the teacher’s whole demeaner and lifestyle which will impact on the education and nurturing of the child and on the Christian culture of the school.

Furthermore, what the anti-discrimination proposals do is elevate the behaviour of those who deviate from the norms of God’s Word in relation to sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or marital relationship status above the norms of God’s Holy Word. The proposals say, in effect, you must tolerate students and be willing to employ teachers who are homosexuals, lesbians, transgender, etc., even though God’s Word denounces such behaviours. We see how, also here, we are engaged in a great spiritual battle.

Both ARPA and the chairman of the FRSA have encouraged church members to respond to the questionnaire, and we have very little time left. So let’s do it. It’s an opportunity thereby to confess Christ and to express our opposition to the push to persuade Christian schools to conform to antichristian laws.  We do so in the comfort that Christ has all authority in heaven and on earth, and governs all things (LD 10). But let’s not use this as an excuse to be inactive. He calls us, His children by covenant and soldiers in His service, to pray and act. Therefore, let us pray fervently that the LORD may continue to grant us the freedom to have and operate our Christian schools in accordance with His Word; and let us act by filling in the survey.

What follows are the questions. Responses may vary. However, for those struggling to know what’s required I’ve included some example responses:


The first few questions ask about how you have been involved with religious educational institutions.

(You are asked to tick the appropriate box. It’s all very straight-forward.)

Then there are some questions to which you can respond in writing.

“Why did you choose to be involved with a religious educational institution (if applicable)?”

Example: My parents are Christians and, in accordance with the promises they made at my baptism before God and His church, they wanted me to be taught about the Bible and to be nurtured in the Christian faith and in godliness to the best of their ability.

“What do you see as the good things about religious educational institutions that you have been involved with?”

(Think of all the benefits God gives through the school.)

Example: Students learnt to see the various subjects and how do use the skills that were taught in the light of God’s Word. It is, on the whole, a spiritually safe and nurturing environment. Both staff and students share the same faith and work at reflecting the fruit of that faith in mutual love and Christian care.

“In a few words, what is your understanding of a ‘community of faith’?”

Example: A community which shares the same religion. A Christian community of faith draws comfort and encouragement from what is confessed and applies the norms and principles of that faith.

… the Christian school is vitally important.

“Do you see the creation of a ‘community of faith’ within a religious educational institution as important?”

Example: Speaking as a Christian I see the Christian school as vitally important. It allows Christian teachers to help Christian parents nurture their children in the Christian faith and helps prepare the students for a life of faith in the service of God.

“The next set of questions will ask you about potential discrimination in religious educational institutions. Answers to these questions will assist the ALRC to understand how people might experience (in relation to themselves) or witness (in relation to someone else) discrimination on particular grounds during their involvement with religious educational institutions.”

“Have you experienced or witnessed what you consider to be discrimination on the grounds of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or relationship status, or pregnancy at the religious educational institution/s you have been involved with?”

Example: No, I have not witnessed or experienced discrimination.

What do you think about reforms to change the law so that religious educational institutions would not be allowed to discriminate against students on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or relationship status, or pregnancy? (Note that there is no suggestion that single sex schools would be prohibited.)

Example: I’m concerned that such laws will be used to discriminate against Christian educational institutions which seek to teach and act in faithfulness to God’s Holy Word, and which refrain from subscribing to, and promoting, ideologies which seek to revolt against the norms of God’s Word.

“What do you think about reforms to change the law so that religious educational institutions would not be allowed to discriminate against staff on the grounds of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or relationship status or pregnancy?”

Example: Religious educational institutions must be permitted to act in accordance with the Christian norms, beliefs and values of God’s Word, as has been the practice for countless decades. Other faith-based schools must likewise have the freedom to employ staff who in doctrine and life will uphold and promote their faith, providing such institutions are not used as a base to promote terrorism.

“The next set of questions will ask you about what religious educational institutions should be permitted to take into account when employing staff and selecting contractors.”

“Answers to these questions will assist the ALRC to consider how any reforms it proposes will ensure that religious educational institutions ‘can continue to build a community of faith by giving preference, in good faith, to persons of the same religion as the educational institution in the selection of staff’.”

“In relation to the employment of staff and selection of contractors…
what do you think religious educational institutions should be permitted to take into account in preferencing members of the same religion?”

Example: Evidence of a doctrine and life which accords with the faith of the religious community. A Christian school, for example, must be able to ensure that all staff teach and model a Christian life, both at school and outside of school, which is in accordance with the Bible, the divinely inspired Word of God.

“what do you think religious educational institutions should not be permitted to take into account in preferencing members of the same religion?”

Example: Unimportant or doubtful things which are not clearly required or prescribed in the doctrine of the institution (e.g. in a Christian school, the doctrine of the Bible) or the church’s confession.

“Are there some factors that institutions should be permitted to take into account for particular employee/contractor roles, but not for other employee/contractor roles?”

Example: A teacher needs, for example, particular educational qualifications in order be able to teach, without necessarily needing secretarial skills; others need qualifications in order to attend to the institution’s finances without requiring teaching skills, etc. However, all staff should be expected to model the behaviour and beliefs espoused by the institution.

“Do you have any other comments? If so, please provide them here.

(You are free to answer or ignore this question.)

Finally, we would like to ask you a few questions about yourself to help us understand more about those who have participated.

All of these questions are optional, and responses will be kept confidential.”

The questionnaire/survey can be done in 15-30 minutes and can be found here: https://alrc.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_3gw1k6J8iZBCpbE

 

[i] Australian Government: Australian Law Reform Commission, Consultation Paper: Religious Educational Institutions and Anti-discrimination Laws, January 2023, Article 36, p. 15