Catholic Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher has warned activist-backed legal cases launched against religious schools “threaten the very future of faith-based education in this country”. Archbishop Fisher, one of the most senior clerics in the nation, declared the ability of Christian schools to teach according to their faith should not be “defended in costly actions instigated by activist groups in tribunals, and courts”. The chair of the Bishops’ Commission for Catholic Education also attacked the Coalition and Labor over their failure to swiftly implement religious protections following the legalisation of same-sex marriage, leaving faith-based institutions at risk of “lawfare”.
Citing revelations about an activist-backed anti-discrimination complaint lodged against Ballarat Christian College, Archbishop Fisher said the case seemed to have been “carefully timed in an attempt to derail current efforts to protect religious freedom in Australia”. Archbishop Fisher said the Victorian case challenged the right of religious schools to “teach that marriage is between a man and a woman and to require staff to not undermine that teaching”. “It contests the right of parents to choose schools for their children that accord with their own religious beliefs,’’ he said. “It undermines the expectation students will be taught by teachers with conviction.’’
Reflecting concerns expressed by Christian school groups across Australia, Archbishop Fisher said those who had campaigned to legalise same-sex marriage had claimed there “would be no negative consequences for those who did not agree”. “Here we are, less than two years later, and a prominent activist group borne out of the Yes campaign demonstrates this was false,” he said. “This is sadly true to form: it’s the same style of activism that sought to weaponise state anti-discrimination law against Archbishop of Hobart, Julian Porteous, for distributing pamphlets about Catholic teaching on marriage.”
Archbishop Fisher said Attorney-General Christian Porter must “urgently clarify” if faith-based schools and other institutions would be protected in cases similar to the legal challenge launched against Ballarat Christian College. He also called out leaders from both major parties for promising Australians of faith during the marriage-postal vote that “religious freedom would be protected before any change to the law was made”. “They failed to fulfil that promise,’’ Archbishop Fisher said. “Two years later and religious schools are being subjected to exactly the sort of lawfare they said they feared and our leaders promised would be prevented.
“Even if the government’s proposed Religious Discrimination Bill is passed it remains unclear whether the Ballarat Christian College would be protected. And it remains unclear whether other faith-based schools will be able to continue to employ staff who share their mission.” Archbishop Fisher said Mr Porter had engaged in consultation with religious groups, leaders of religious schools and Equality Australia, the activist group supporting the Ballarat Christian College case. “In light of these discussions, the Attorney-General must urgently clarify if it is intended that faith-based schools and other institutions will be protected in such cases under any proposed legislation,” he said.
Former Ballarat Christian College teacher Rachel Colvin has lodged a claim with the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal claiming she was discriminated against over her political and religious beliefs in support of same-sex marriage. Ms Colvin‘s case, backed by Equality Australia, centres on her claims she was forced to quit after refusing to adhere to the Ballarat Christian College policy on same-sex marriage. The school’s enterprise agreement lodged with the Fair Work Commission in 2017 includes a clause which states “all employees are expected by the college to possess and maintain a firm belief consistent with the Statement of Faith of the college”.
The teacher, who notified the school of her objections to the statement in a letter on August 14 last year, met college officials who indicated she was free to hold her personal views but was required to support and teach in accordance with the beliefs of the institution. Ms Colvin allegedly was unwilling to do so. Australian Association of Christian Schools executive officer Alithea Westerman said if federal exemptions were not “certain to provide protection” it would be difficult to deal with the issue. “Unless political will and legislative creativity is brought to bear we are concerned that school communities will be targeted by activists with an unhealthy obsession,” she said.
Source: Compiled by APN from media reports