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Faith-based schools and religious freedom

At the request of the Commonwealth Attorney General, Mark Dreyfus, in 2022 the Australian Law Reform Commission was asked to inquire and report on what changes should be made to the various Federal laws to ‘eliminate’ all forms of discrimination from Australian schools. In response to this request, in 2023 the Commission released a paper entitled, “Religious educational institutions and Anti-Discrimination Laws”. In essence this paper proposes changes to Commonwealth law which would severely impact the ability of faith-based schools to provide the kind of education which parents are seeking. This paper is now being considered by the Albanese government.


If the recommendations of the paper are accepted by the government it would limit the legal freedom of a faith-based school to give preference to hiring staff who are committed to the faith espoused by that school, be it Catholic, Jewish or Muslim. A faith-based school needs, as a minimum, staff who are respectful and committed to upholding tenets and beliefs of the founding religion.

The proposed changes would permit teachers to promote views contrary to the teaching and culture of the school. In other words, faith-based schools would be prevented from maintaining the integrity of their culture and mission in educating young people.

For Catholics this strikes at the very heart of the founding reason for Catholic education. The Church has consistently maintained that parents, who are the first and primary teachers of their children, have the right to choose a school which accords with their beliefs and values.

Our Catholic schools need to be able to teach and fully embody the Catholic faith and employ staff that are committed to respect and uphold the faith in the classroom.

Not long after the consultation paper was released 30 religious leaders across all major faiths in Australia wrote to the Attorney General to express their deep concern about the proposals and the threat they posed to continued existence of faith-based schools.

At a conference on Religious Freedom organised by the University of Notre Dame at its Sydney campus, Justice Rothman, the chair of the ALRC committee, said that he was unmoved by the concern expressed by the religious leaders. What this reveals is that many in our society, including those in high legal office, have a different understanding of the right to religious freedom and its relationship to other so-called competing rights, from those who belong to the various faith traditions. It is crucially important for our society that we address this apparent difference in understanding on the legal meaning and significance of religious freedom through a reasoned and frank public dialogue.

We constantly hear that we need to embrace ‘diversity’, yet religious diversity is denied.

Our nation has long promoted its rich multi-culturalism. We rejoice in the contribution of various ethnic communities. They have enriched our culture. So too, our nation benefits from the contribution of various faiths. Christianity, in particular, has helped shape the culture and has contributed greatly to the quality of life we enjoy in Australia.

The Christian faith has much to offer our nation. Increasingly parents are choosing to send their children to our schools because of what they offer.  The proposed ALRC changes constitute a most serious threat to existence of our schools and our ability to provide such education. Our Catholic schools must be able to remain Catholic.

It is vital that the Albanese Government reject this attack on the freedom of faith-based schools to fully embody their beliefs and tenets and fully commit to protect the religious freedom for all Australians. If faith-based organisations do not have the legal protections to maintain the integrity of their beliefs in carrying out their mission of service to the Australian community they will not be able to continue to operate.


    4 responses to “Faith-based schools and religious freedom”

    1. Simon Greener says:

      However, we Catholics have no serious influence in the political world. We have few souls in the pews that would take your side if they knew what was going on.

      And I would suggest, that if you took a survey of the views of the teachers and employees of the Catholic School system you might find that they also are not on our side.

    2. Simon Greener says:

      Oh, and with a State election in two days we have no idea which potential politicians are on our side such that we could vote for some representation.

    3. Leba Sleiman says:

      Simon Greener, that’s not the point, for if Catholic schools are no longer allowed to teach the Catholic Faith then those who desire the truth, be they few or many, will be increasingly at a loss to find it.

    4. Lenka Loncar says:

      There would be many that are on Archbishop’s side, some have left Communist countries so they have freedom to practice their faith, they send their children to Catholic Schools so they can be taught our faith.
      The problem is that we don’t speak out.

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