faith-based schools

Draconian Attack on Religious Schools Begins

16 February 2023

3.2 MINS

If the Federal Government implements legal changes recommended by the Australian Law Reform Commission, religious schools will soon face the same gender identity and sexual orientation policies as state schools.

In 2013, the federal Sex Discrimination Act (SDA) made a person’s self-identified gender identity and sexual orientation protected attributes. These attributes apply to both staff and students in a school.

State education departments have interpreted the SDA to mean that state schools must allow a boy who identifies as a girl to access girls’ safe spaces at school, to play in girls’ sports (except where strength and size may be a factor), to be recognised by their new name and pronouns, and to dress as female.

It also means that when it comes to employment, transgender teachers and staff cannot be treated differently from other teachers and staff in the school.

Legal Protection

While state schools are subject to these discrimination clauses, Section 38 of the SDA provides significant exemptions for faith-based schools. They are not required to have the same policies as state schools. They are free to employ staff and enrol students “in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of a particular religion or creed, … [and] to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion or creed”.

Anti-discrimination laws in the states and territories have also made gender identity and sexual orientation protected attributes. While in most jurisdictions there are exemptions for faith-based schools, Victoria and the Northern Territory have started a growing trend to abolish these exemptions.

However, because the federal SDA takes precedence over state anti-discrimination laws, the current exemption clauses in the SDA have become the single most important protection for the freedom of faith-based schools to manifest (in what they teach, whom they enrol and whom they employ) their beliefs in the immutability of biological sex and their faith’s moral beliefs on the nature of sex, marriage and family.

These protections from state legislation are now threatened.

Exemptions Threatened

Last November, Federal Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus instructed the ALRC to report on removing these important exemptions from the SDA.

The ALRC’s interim report has just been released. It has recommended the removal of exemptions for faith-based schools altogether and gives examples of what this will mean for religious schools when they are confronted with the full force of the SDA and some state anti-discrimination laws.

Under what it means for students, the ALRC said “a school could no longer refuse to accept as school captain an LGBTQ+ student elected or appointed in accordance with its application process”.

“[A] school could continue to impose reasonable uniform requirements as long as adjustments could be made to accommodate transgender or gender diverse students.”

In other words, religious schools will be required to accommodate transgender students. As with state schools, presumably, this accommodation will also involve access to toilets, showers, change rooms, camps and sports, as well as name changes and preferred pronouns.

Under what it means for staff and teachers, the ALRC said, “a school could no longer refuse to hire a teacher on the grounds that they are LGBTQ+”, meaning that faith-based schools will be denied the freedom to always employ staff in accordance with the school’s religious beliefs.

Further, “a school could require an LGBTQ+ staff member involved in the teaching of religious doctrine or beliefs to teach the school’s position on those religious doctrines or beliefs, as long as they were able to provide objective information about alternative viewpoints if they wished”.

In a similar vein, a teacher must be “permitted to objectively discuss the existence of alternative views about other lifestyles, relationships, or sexuality in a manner appropriate to the context”.

Doesn’t this mean that an activist teacher can teach about gender-identity and sexual-orientation issues that contradict the fundamental moral teachings of the school’s faith?

Government Overreach

The most intrusive ALRC proposal is to give the Australian Human Rights Commission the power to inquire into faith-based schools for what it calls “systemic unlawful discrimination”. Such “discrimination” will be inevitable. Without exemptions, the law will force sexual issues on religious schools in direct opposition to their beliefs. These draconian investigative powers to curtail religious freedom are the hallmark of an authoritarian state.

Under the Dreyfus/ALRC proposals, teachers and principals in breach of the law could face anti-discrimination charges, loss of professional accreditation and loss of employment.

Early in 2022, a bill to repeal exemptions for faith-based schools was passed in the House of Representatives with the combined support of Labor, the Greens and six dissident Liberals. It did not reach the Senate before the federal election.

Now Labor is in power, and in the Senate, the Greens and David Pocock hold the balance of power and are in a position to ensure passage of the anticipated legislation.

The ALRC has invited responses to its consultation paper by February 24, and it has set up a 15-minute survey portal where you can register your “individual views and experiences” of religious schools. Please make your views known.


Originally published in News Weekly. Photo by Oleksandr Pidvalnyi.

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  1. Jim Twelves 16 February 2023 at 7:27 am - Reply

    Patrick, thank you for this report. I must say I really appreciate your style of writing that makes a most complex, emotive subject accessible, thank you.
    It raises for me ‘what is at the heart of the left’s agenda?’ The ordinary member of parliament in the Labour and Greens Coalition Party, I am sure, don’t have a desire to bring division to our nation. But they are simply submissive to their party agenda. It seems to me we should pray for God to show us the spiritual powers at work here and to aim spiritual nuclear attacks at them on a regular basis until they are driven back to the pit. Note, I did not say anything here about the ‘members of parliament involved’, rather the ‘spiritual forces’ at work here. I think this is a call for spiritual warfare if ever there was one, as well as filling in the survey.

    • Kaylene Emery 16 February 2023 at 8:41 am - Reply

      Thank you Jim. Such an important point to remember. We are in a spiritual war.

  2. Kaylene Emery 16 February 2023 at 8:39 am - Reply

    Australia Christian Lobby are providing zoom training tonight on how to properly understand the survey questions. The information is on their web site. I have been waiting to attend before, I fill it out because it’s exactly as you describe here, the language is stunningly deceptive and designed to be so in order to achieve the answers they want. ACL are offering us a valuable service.
    Thank you Patrick you have made this subject really accessible.

  3. Kaylene Emery 16 February 2023 at 8:54 am - Reply

    For those who do not yet know and I don’t think there are many now, both public and private schools have been teaching this perverse doctrine for years. The changes in law are happening at this point in time because the last 3 years have caused so much trauma in us, in our populations , consequently we have been rendered very vulnerable to total control. Even to the point of handing over our children.
    May God in His great mercy, guide us

    • Jim Twelves 16 February 2023 at 9:02 pm - Reply

      Kaylene, I think you make an excellent point here. I believe that God is the author of peace and clarity, the evil one is the author of stress, trauma and confusion.

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