Religious Leaders Revolt Over School Reforms

A coalition of Christian, Islamic and Jewish leaders and educators has written a joint letter to Anthony Albanese, urging him to reject a proposed overhaul of religious schools because it would “extinguish their distinct and authentic character” and render them “indistinguishable from public schools”. The 24 religious leaders wrote that the “deeply flawed’’ reforms to anti-discrimination laws would stop them from sacking gay or pregnant teachers. Sent to the Prime Minister and Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, the letter attacks the final report of the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) and warns its recommendations would have “disastrous consequences’’. They would prevent the overwhelming majority of faith-based schools from preferring persons who share and authentically live out their faith,’’ the letter says. “It will therefore extinguish their distinct and authentic character. The purpose of religious schools is not only to impart intellectual knowledge, but also to instill religious values.

“The ALRC proposals would place unnecessary and unreasonable restrictions on the freedom of religious schools to give effect to the international human right of parents and guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.’’ Deputy Liberal leader Sussan Ley said she had not seen the proposed legislation, which was given to shadow attorney-general Michaelia Cash on a confidential basis, but the Coalition expected normal processes to be followed. The letter was signed by: Anglican Bishop of South Sydney Michael Stead; president of the Australian National Imams Council Shadi Alsuleiman; president of the Islamic Council of Victoria Adel Salman; and president of the United Shia Islamic Foundation Hussein Faraj.

It was also signed by Maronite Bishop of Australia Antoine-Charbel; Robert Gregory of the Australian Jewish Association; David Burke of the Presbyterian Church; Mark Wilson of the Australian Baptist Churches; Mark Spencer of Christian Schools Australia; and Sang Goo Song of the Council of the Ministers of Korean Churches in Sydney. The letter said religious schools were aimed not only at educating children but instilling religious values and demonstrating to students “what a life lived in accordance with the relevant religion looks and feels like in practice. “Having teachers and other staff at the school who can participate in these activities as a faith community, whether these staff are engaged in religious teaching or not, helps to realise the school’s religious purpose – and to develop an understanding by students that religion is not merely an adjunct to core activities, but an integral part of them,” the letter says. “These are among the reasons why many parents choose to send their children to religious schools. The rights of parents to do so is enshrined in international law.”

But the letter, also signed by David Tse of the Sydney Chinese Christian Churches Association; Vanessa Cheng of the Australian Association of Christian Schools; and Abdullah Khan of the Islamic Schools Association of Australia warned, the commission report would “place severe limits on the ability of religious schools to build authentic communities of faith”. The group informs Mr. Albanese and Mr. Dreyfus that the commission report, if implemented, would have “disastrous consequences for religious schools and religious educational institutions”. “We call on the government to reject the recommendations made in this report and to seek a policy outcome that will preserve the rights of religious schools and educational institutions to build and administer faith communities in accordance with their doctrines, tenets and beliefs,” the letter says. The educators also urge the government to return to the proposal put forward by former commission president, Sarah Derrington in 2019 and which was endorsed by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, the National Catholic Education Commission, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry and the Anglican Church Diocese of Sydney.

The letter said that the ­“Derrington model” would remove discrimination from schools while also “guaranteeing the right of religious institutions to conduct their affairs in a way consistent with their religious ethos”. Disappointment was expressed at the way the commission conducted its current inquiry, with the letter saying: “We are disheartened that our good-faith engagement with the ALRC in response to the interim consultation report seems to have had no effect whatsoever in the Commission’s appreciation of the unique nature of religious schools and religious educational institutions.”

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

Print This Post Print This Post


Comments are closed