Religious organisations have begun to speak out against the recommendation in the Ruddock review report that laws should change to ensure religious schools’ right to discriminate.
Uniting Network Australia, the LGBTI network of the Uniting Church, released a statement rejecting the finding.
“To permit an already vulnerable young person to be thrown out of a religious school as they become aware of their identity is not in the best interest of children and is likely to add to the already unacceptably high rates of depression, self-harm and suicide of young LGBTI people.
“We also see no rational or religious reason to discriminate against LGBTI staff in religious schools except in the limited case of school chaplains and teachers for the specific religious teaching.
“There is no justification for the exclusion of LGBTI teachers in core curriculum areas such as Maths, Science, English or support staff and school caretakers.
The Uniting Network’s response to the reported review findings noted that the government is currently seeking a review of mental health programs in Australia.
They said that, if implemented, an entrenched ability to discriminate “will continue to create mental health issues within the LGBTI community and in particular younger LGBTI people.
“In our Christian context, Jesus gave two underpinning commandments, to Love God, and to Love One Another.
“This proposed action is providing religious, and in our context Christian schools, to disobey Jesus’ clear objective, as this form of discrimination shows that those schools will not love one another.”
In July, the Uniting Church announced it would allow its ministers to decide for themselves if they wished to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies.
Reverend Alex Pittaway, Senior Pastor of Brisbane’s Metropolitan Community Church, also released a statement rejecting the review’s finding, noting that he attended a school which expelled a student for being gay.
“LBGTI kids are [between six and fourteen] times more likely to be at risk of suicide and today the Ruddock review wants to marginalize those kids even further by hanging the sword of expulsion over their heads,” Pittaway said.
“It’s hard enough as a high schooler realizing that you’re gay, let alone realizing you’re that your school can expel you, your church can reject you and your parents can throw you out on the street.
“As a Christian Minister and as a survivor of a homophobic Christian school in Sydney, I call upon federal and state governments to remove these laws which today enable LGBTI kids to be expelled.
“I had no choice about going to this school. I also had no choice when I was the victim of endless homophobic bullying from students and teachers who suspected I was gay,” he said.
“We need laws protecting vulnerable LGBTI kids in schools. It is unfortunate that these schools leave behind the inclusive love of Jesus by viciously defending their right to expel on the grounds of sexuality.”
Pittaway said he had spoken to Queensland Minister for Education Grace Grace about changing laws to prevent religious schools from discriminating against LGBTI staff and students, but saw little success.
He noted that many of his congregants were teachers and students in religious schools and that “every day he hears stories of lives being destroyed by these discriminatory laws.”
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, which made a submission to the review on behalf of the Catholic Church in Australia, was more ambiguous in its statement, saying they have “not sought concessions to discriminate against students or teachers based on their sexuality, gender identity or relationship status.”
“I have not seen the religious freedom report cited in the media today,” said ACBC President Archbishop Mark Coleridge, “but Catholic schools welcome staff and students form all backgrounds who are willing to accept the declared mission and values of the school community.”
“Once employed or enrolled, people within a Catholic school community are expected to adhere to the schools’ mission and values.”
Catholic Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher, who is Vice President of the ACBC, wrote in a 33-page submission to the review that religious schools should retain the right to ban LGBTI sex education and be able to stop trans students from wearing uniforms or using toilets that align with their gender identity.
Last year, a Perth school fired a teacher for being gay which has since brought religious schools’ ability to discriminate based on sexuality or gender identity into question in Western Australia.
“I would be very emphatic that our schools, our parishes exist to teach a Catholic view of marriage,” Archbishop of Melbourne Denis Hart said during the postal survey last year.
“Any words or actions which work contrary to that would be viewed very seriously.
“Our teachers, our parish employees are expected totally to uphold the Catholic faith and what we believe about marriage.
“People have to see in words and in example that our teaching of marriage is underlined. We shouldn’t be slipping on that.”