The Presbyterian Church of Australia has said that it should have the right to ban gay students from leadership roles like that of the school captain.
The PCA runs around 20 schools and pre-schools across Australia that educate over 13,000 students. In a submission before the Australian Law Reform Commission, PCA said that it should have the right to exclude students from leadership positions, for being gay or having pre-marital sex.
The Church was responding to a paper by the ALRC, which had recommended law reforms to remove the power of religious schools to sack teachers and expel students for being LGBTQI.
Religious Schools Discriminate Against LGBTQI Students
LGBTQI advocacy organisations condemned the Church’s stand and said it exposes what they have been saying all along – that religious schools discriminate against LGBTQI students and staff.
“Religious schools have consistently said they don’t exercise their right to discriminate against LGBTQI students and teachers, but the Presbyterian Church has exposed that as untrue,” Rodney Croome, spokesperson for Just.Equal said in a statement.
“The Presbyterian position, plus last year’s revelations about anti-gay and anti-trans policies at Citipointe Baptist School, show there is a pattern of discrimination in some faith-based schools. These ongoing revelations show why national laws are needed to protect LGBTIQ+ students and teachers from discrimination,” said Croome.
Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles told Nine’s Today program on Friday that a student’s sexual orientation had nothing to do with their leadership qualities.
“We can’t see a situation where we’re inadvertently discriminating against kids. Leadership and the qualities of leadership are not a function of people’s sexual orientation and we need to make sure we have the widest pool of people for leadership positions across our society,” said Marles.
Albanese Government Moves To Remove Exemptions For Religious Schools
In January, the ALRC recommended law reforms to make it unlawful for religious educational institutions to discriminate against students “on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or relationship status, or pregnancy”.
In February 2023, around 300 schools under the banner Christian Schools Australia and the Australian Association of Christian Schools, which educate over 200,000 students, pulled out of consultations with the ALRC.
AACS claimed that the proposed legislation “would result in far-reaching changes to federal anti-discrimination laws which would remove many of the vital protections Christian schools rely upon to employ only Christian staff who are committed to the beliefs of the school; teach a Christian worldview by Christian staff across all subjects; and maintain a Christian worldview and culture in the school.”
Gay School Captain Cannot Give ‘Christian’ Leadership, Says Church
In its submissions to the ALRC, the Presbyterian Church of Australia insisted that it does not discriminate against or expel LGBTQI students.
The PCA claimed that the ALRC’s proposal would “compromise the ability of Christian schools to provide what many Christian parents desire for their families, and thus will undermine the liberty of parents to raise their children in accordance with their Christian faith.”
According to the PCA, if the law reforms remove exemptions under the anti-discrimination laws that religious schools enjoy, then they would be subject to complaints regarding “uniform requirements, the provision of bathrooms, change rooms and accommodation, as well as requirements that students attend chapel and take classes which teach classic Christian views of sex, marriage and gender.”
The Church also argued that if a student looking to be appointed as school captain “were in an active same-sex relationship, they would not be able to give appropriate Christian leadership in a Christian school which requires modelling Christian living. This would also be the case for a student in a sexually active unmarried heterosexual relationship.”
“In both cases, the proposal removes from schools the ability to determine an ethos by selecting appropriate leaders,” the PCA added.
Croome pointed out that some states and territories including, Tasmania, Victoria, the ACT, Queensland, the Northern Territory and WA have already enacted or are in the process of enacting laws to ban faith-based schools from discriminating against LGBTQI students and staff.
“Excluding LGBTQ+ students from leadership positions sends the message that these students do not fully belong in the school community and will encourage further discrimination against them,” said Croome, while calling for a federal law to protect LGBTQI students and teachers in religious schools. “Most funding for faith-based schools came from taxpayers and as such these schools have a duty to represent the values of the majority of Australians,” added Croome.