A secular society means the ACT should not prescribe who church schools can hire

The ACT government has announced it intends to legislate to “protect students and teachers from discrimination in our schools, including on the basis of sexuality, gender identity, race, pregnancy, or intersex status”.

Graham Young, Executive Director of the Australian Institute for Progress said what this means is uncertain.

“Whatever it might mean, from comments made by the chief minister this would appear to include preventing schools from choosing teachers only from amongst those who faithfully adhere to the teachings of their faith.

“This is not only an assault on religious freedom, but on freedom of association.”

Mr Young said that Australia is a secular society, and the state has no business telling a church what it may, or may not, believe.

“A religious organisation cannot effectively advocate for its moral and ethical position if the people it employs don’t uphold those positions themselves. So the moral and ethical beliefs and behaviours of potential employees are an integral part of their right to free speech.”

Mr Young said that national legislation is possible and desirable.

“I understand the concerns of some that we would be creating a de facto bill of rights, but what we currently have is a legislative patchwork bill of rights encompassing state and federal laws. We can’t pretend this doesn’t exist.”

Mr Young said that the federal government could either reach a negotiated settlement with the state governments to unify the laws, as was done with the defamation act, or use the foreign affairs power to over-ride the states.

“Australians should treat everyone, no matter what their characteristics, as having intrinsic and equal worth. That is not the same thing as affirming and approving their behaviours.

“If Australians aren’t free to make their own moral judgements, then they are no longer free.””

The Australian Institute for Progress’s submission to the Religious Freedoms Review, written by Graham Young and Rev Ralph Bowles can be downloaded by clicking here.

Its seven recommendations were:

  • The Commonwealth government legislate to ensure that religious freedom is protected uniformly across Australia. This could be done by uniform legislation after agreement between the states, or using the Foreign Affairs power and the international human rights instruments that Australia has ratified.
  • That complaints of religious vilification or discrimination should not be heard by a non-judicial tribunal and must be commenced in a court.
  • All blasphemy laws should be repealed so that any person can criticise any organisation, or person, on the basis of their theology, ethics and morality, or their practice. This includes repealing or overriding the inclusion of religion in various state discrimination acts as well as in the Victorian Racial and Religious Tolerance Act.
  • It should be recognised as a right that religious institutions can teach and practice in line with their theology in the widest range of cases, but certainly in the case of sexual relations.
  • Religious institutions should be able to hire employees who align with their practices and be liefs, and reject those who don’t, as a consequence of, and in furtherance of, their right to religious freedom.
  • Religious adherents , not just clergy, should be able to express opinions on the basis of their understanding of the theology, ethics and morality of their chosen religion, without penalty.
  • All citizens, whether religious or not, should be guaranteed the right to withhold their commercial services on whatever basis they choose. This should not extend to the provision of products.