Schools must retain hiring rights

Robert Forsyth

19 October 2018 | Ideas@TheCentre

In the hasty and overheated reaction to the leaked recommendations of the Ruddock review, pressure is building to remove the rights of religious schools to discriminate against teachers, not just students, on the grounds of questions of sexual orientation, gender identity or relationship status.

This pressure needs to be resisted.

Teachers and children are not the same. There is no justification for a continued right for a religious school to discriminate against a student. But there is a kind of religious school where certain aspects of a teacher’s life and relationships are significant enough to be justified grounds for discrimination.

Admittedly, some religious schools sit loosely to their religious affiliation. Other than for the chaplain, there is a low expectation for the staff to live that closely to the obligation of the relevant religion. For these schools the sexual orientation, gender identity or relationship status of their teachers is pretty irrelevant.

For others it is different. Those schools, and more importantly the parents who send their children to such schools, seek to have their students educated in an intentional religious community. And so the personal life of the teachers and other staff members play an important part in providing models and mentors for the students in growing in their religion. Such schools and parents need teachers to walk the walk — not simply talk the talk — about the religion of the school.

To remove this right to discrimination in the selection of staff, as some are rashly proposing, would be removing the right of the school to function as a religious school. Further, it would be in effect the state removing the liberty of parents to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions, which is contrary to our international obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Article 18.4.

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