Peter CostelloPeter Costello

July 29, 2009 – The Age

A proposed charter may be used to curtail religious freedom.

WHAT happens when equal rights between men and women are so widely accepted that mainstream Australia hardly thinks about it? Surely it is time to acknowledge that anti-discrimination statutes have done their job?

Not according to the Victorian Government. It harbours the view that discrimination has got sophisticated – so hard to find under current law – that we must widen the law to catch more of it. One area in the State Government’s sights is religious bodies, and their schools.

Now, discrimination statutes don’t apply to religious organisations and their schools on the grounds of freedom of religion. So a parliamentary committee has recommended options to extend the power of the state over the province of religion. One proposed change is to restrict the freedom of religious schools to choose their employees on the basis of their religious faith.

The Christian churches want to continue current practice. But a host of community organisations wants to change it. The Federation of Community Legal Services told the parliamentary review that the law should change, claiming: “To allow religious organisations a broad exemption for conscience encourages prejudice…”

Just think about the moral vanity of that statement. According to these lawyers, a religious conscience leads to prejudice. How did the church arouse public conscience over slavery? How did Florence become a haven for the arts and letters? How did civilisation develop in the past couple of millennia without the Community Legal Services to guide it?

A leading discrimination law expert, Professor Margaret Thornton, wants to narrow the exemption for religious freedom of schools on the grounds that: “If private schools receive money from the state they should be subject to the law of the land.” Well, of course they should be. And they are.

The question is whether the law of the land should require them to employ people who are indifferent or hostile to their religion in their schools. Parents who choose to send their children to a Christian school have a reasonable expectation that the child will get a Christian education. How could the school fulfil its obligation to the parents if it is required by law to employ non-Christian or anti-Christian teachers to provide it? If the law demands this you might as well close down the concept of a Christian school – which might be what some of the critics intend.

The provisions applying to religion have been operating for more than 30 years, with little fuss. So why is a parliamentary committee reviewing them now? Because, we are told, they have to be assessed for compliance against the Victorian 2006 Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities. This charter was introduced with the promise that it would amplify rights and freedoms.

There is something so predictable about this. The human rights industry begins with grand promises and ends up intervening in non-problems. We are led to believe that the purpose of these charters is to stop arbitrary arrests, guarantee a free press and guard against dictatorship. What does it actually do? In practice, it complicates the life of religious schools and opens lawsuits against the churches.

There is another inquiry going at the moment, set up by the Commonwealth Government, to look at promoting human rights. It is looking at a statutory charter of rights just like the one Victoria has. No one will tell you that the purpose of such a Commonwealth charter will be to curtail religious conscience or practice. But it will work out the same way.

Whatever the proponents say, the crusading lawyers will use any new federal charter against those institutions to which they are hostile. They will have sympathetic ears in the equal opportunity commissions. After all, experience in the human rights industry will be a qualification for appointment. The churches and Christian schools will be in the firing line.

As community legal services make clear – their view is that religious conscience encourages prejudice. Once the churches and religious conscience are out of the way, lawyers will have a clear run. Lawsuits will be used to decide the great moral questions of the age. You can see what’s in it for the lawyers. But don’t think it is a step forward for liberty.

Peter Costello is MHR for Higgins.


6 Responses to “Pursuing The Churches Over Human Rights Is Contradictory”

  1. 1 Shirleen

    Hi

    I work for Northern Territory Christian Schools Assn and am also a student at Charles Darwin University. I discovered earlier this year that teachers in Britain in independent schools are required to teach Islam and employ nonChristian or nonCatholic teachers. I was horrified. I found an online post by a Pentecostal teacher in Britain re this issue asking for prayer. I hope the article you have sent me is sent to all Christian schools. We must pray now.

    God Bless.

    Shirleen

  2. 2 Tanya

    Why both having Christian Schools if they can no longer be Christian? What’s the point? If they do this, will they also ensure the Islamic Schools don’t have only Muslim teachers/students etc. Will they have to stop their beliefs as well?

    re: Shirleen …. As if the world is not in a bad enough shape as it is. Let’s just take out the very people who represent love, faith and hope, and replace it with a terrorist organisation – makes perfect sense! – NOT!

    I suppose the Bible does say this will happen. Thank God – HE is in control!

    Tanya

  3. 3 Elijah

    When are we going to have some backbone. i have traveled to so mant countries where the dominat religion is of islam .
    By no means are they hospitipal to the idea of intrigating christianity into the way of life of all levels of society.
    I feel that it is a very sad thing indeed to allow people from other countries who follow other ways of life and religion
    especially when the religion condones the killing of non believers to dismantle our love of the christian life and schooling of our kids.
    These men who have the idea that changing the law is a good thing need to open there eyes and see what happens around the world. I love the way australia is, dont change it. My children attend a christian school. how will they learn for 8 hours a day the way of life of a christian, and what it means to be a follower of JESUS CHRIST if the people teaching in the schools are muslim or homosexual. Jesus said, I did not come to conderm the world but give life, that whom ever believes in me will enter eternal life.Also, No other name has bin given in heaven or on earth by which a man can be saved(eternaly) except the name of JESUS.The only begotten son of God. How can a man who believes in Mohamad …….., leave alone christian schools. Thats my right as a citizen to follow my faith in truth and for my kids.

  4. 4 Gone Fishing

    Great article.

    How anyone with a sincere interest in civil liberty disagree? I’m sure they don’t. Only those with anti-God agendas do.

  5. 5 Emmanuel Bride

    Danny,

    I have be thinking about this for a few days, and asking God to give me some arguments that may be useful and this argument just popped into my head, then I thought what can I do with this because I am not a Victorian, well Danny your name also just popped into my head, so here is an argument. I felt compelled to write this right now. I pray you can use it and I pray that you can improve on it, my words need a bit of polish.

    (1)People have a choice, some people choose Holden, some Ford, some say they are the same, others say they are immensely and fundamentally different.
    (2)Some people say that a teacher in a Christian School is just a teacher, and any teacher can do that work, but the Christian Parents, and in this context, they are the consumers of the education service, have the choice to purchase a Christian Education or a public education or indeed many other forms of education, but they have seen the value in this Christian Education and one of the main aspects (values) is that this education is by Christians. The Christians can see this service as immensely and fundamentally different to other education service, but the non Christian can not understand the difference and wish to deny the Christians their choice.

    Regards,

    Emmanuel Bride

  6. 6 Jamie

    Peter Costello,

    Come back and win the next election!!

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