Lutheran Education Australia (LEA) is calling for faith-based schools to retain the right to uphold their unique ethos, as part of the consultation process on proposed changes to federal anti-discrimination laws in Australia.
The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) has sought submissions from stakeholders in response to its consultation paper Religious Educational Institutions and Anti-Discrimination Laws, which addresses the way that proposed reforms apply to religious schools and other educational institutions.
The consultation paper sets out four general propositions supported by 14 technical proposals for reform. If adopted, the ALRC says these would:
- make discrimination against students on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or relationship status, or pregnancy in schools and other religious educational institutions unlawful, by removing exceptions currently available under federal law,
- protect teachers and other school staff from discrimination on the grounds of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or relationship status, or pregnancy, by removing similar exceptions, and
- 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 a part of their role (and it is not discriminatory on other grounds); and
> require all staff to respect the educational institution’s religious ethos.
LEA submits that, if adopted, some elements of the proposed changes ‘would severely restrict the ability of Lutheran schools to build a community of faith’.
LEA Executive Director, Assoc Prof Lisa Schmidt says: ‘We do not seek the right to discriminate on the basis of a protected attribute, but simply to be able to employ staff who share or are willing to uphold the ethos of the religious educational institution.’
In the submission, she points out that a critical mass of Christian staff is needed to uphold the ethos of a Christian school.
‘The likely outcome [if the proposals are adopted] is faith-based schools becoming indistinguishable from state schools, effectively removing the ability of parents to choose to educate their children in accordance with their beliefs and values’, she says.
‘The proposals do not fully consider the totality of the role of a teacher and student learning outcomes beyond content knowledge, the importance of holistic education of the individual child supported by all staff, and the role of the entire school community in establishing and upholding an ethos.’
In the submission Assoc Prof Schmidt points out the important leadership role all staff play in sharing and upholding the ethos of the school, noting the consultation paper’s ‘narrow view of leadership’ by restricting it to executive officers such as the principal.
‘Restricting the ability of faith-based schools to selectively preference people of that faith only for leadership roles with executive titles rather than all roles would severely impact on the ability of Lutheran schools to have the leadership in place to be Lutheran schools.’
Read the full LEA submission here.
More information on the proposed reforms and the ALRC consultation paper are available at www.alrc.gov.au/publication/adl-cp-2023