Religious school sanctity may be eroded by WA anti-discrimination review


An integral part of religious freedom is freedom of association.

The primary way governments support religious freedom is by allowing people to establish organizations and manage membership. This allows people to commit to the core principles of the Founder.

After all, I got it According to law professors Rex Ahdar and Ian Leigh, the freedom to associate is also closely tied to the freedom to exclude others.

“In liberal societies, people so excluded are free to join other religious groups (or form their own), so this should not be seen as harmful.” they are writing

Ahdar and Leigh also said government intervention to stop all forms of exclusion (through anti-discrimination laws) could ultimately undermine religious freedom.

“Perhaps paradoxically, an exclusive society increases social diversity.”

In this regard, the Attorney General of Western Australia (WA), John Quigley, recently submitted a report on the review of the Equal Opportunities Act 1984. The report has had a major impact on religious schools across the state.

The WA Legal Reform Commission, which wrote the report and where I served for five years, Made 163 recommendations This includes anti-discrimination protections for those who identify as “transgender, gender-diverse or non-binary who do not require approval from the Transsexual Commission”, as well as “LGTQIA+ staff in religious schools.” and increased legal protections for “students”.

Epoch Times photo
Attorney General John Quigley speaks during a press conference in Perth, Australia, June 27, 2018. (AAP Image/Richard Wainwright)

Another important recommendation is the “Inherent Requirement Test,” which compels religious schools to prove that religious beliefs or activities are a prerequisite for employment.

Organizations must also demonstrate that conformity to popular religious beliefs is an essential part of their work. That is, non-Christians may even be hired for roles in religious schools.

Impact on international human rights

As such, the process of drafting legislation to reflect these aspirations has begun.

It is important to note that the role of religious schools is fully recognized under international law.

For example, Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) declares that parents have a fundamental right to guarantee “the religious and moral education of their children in accordance with their convictions.” doing.

And because international law recognizes freedom of religion, the Washington state government should not make it too difficult for schools to become full-fledged religious institutions.

Therefore, an important way governments can protect religious freedom is by giving communities full freedom of association.

“The right to discriminate on religious grounds is essential to freedom. [of a religious organisation] For without it the group could not exist as a distinct religious entity. ” describe Reid Mortensen, Professor and Head of Legal Affairs, University of Southern Queensland, said:

How Can Religious Schools Stay Religious?

Even if some employment positions in these religious schools are not considered to have the characteristics of a religious profession, for these schools to provide an authentic religious environment, employees’ “Mission fit” is important.

Similarly, mandating the hiring of faculty members who do not uphold the core values ​​of a religious school undermines the purpose of such a school.

In some cases, these schools can steadily lose their religious identity and become indistinguishable from government and non-religious schools.

Of course, there is no point in having a religious school when the only staff members with a religious worldview are the principal, pastors, and religious studies teachers.

Australian cardinal indicts key witnesses
Facade of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne, Australia, September 9, 2018 (AP Photo/Rod McGuirk, file)

As noted by Vanessa Cheng, Executive Director of the Australian Association of Christian Schools, the WA’s proposed changes will make it very difficult for religious schools to recruit staff and preferred family members who share their faiths at registration. increase.

“Certainly, it is not the government that decides whether a Christian school should be a Christian school,” she said. Said.

The ability to discriminate on the basis of organizational principles is central to democratic freedom.

Political parties exhibit the same discrimination that religious groups do in recruiting staff and appointing officers.

Governments must work to ensure that these freedoms are protected, to ensure that schools have the flexibility to make decisions based on their beliefs, and even to fire employees.

Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Epoch Times.

August Zimmermann


Augusto Zimmermann is Professor and Legal Director at the Sheridan Institute of Higher Education, Perth. He has also served as President of the Western Australian (WA) Association for Legal Theory and Editor-in-Chief of The Western Australian Jurist, and from 2012 until 2017 he was a member of the WA Law Reform Commission. “Composition Brasileiro”, “Western Legal Theory”, and “Christian Foundations of Common Law”.