Faith-Based Schools in the Northern Territory Threaten to Close

The Northern Territory parliament is currently considering amending the Anti-Discrimination Act so as to end an existing provision that allows “religious educational institutions to discriminate against staff based on their sexuality”. This would mean people who do not share the beliefs or values of a faith-based school or institution could no longer be excluded from employment.

In response, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Darwin, Charles Gauci, has said that he will consider closely all eighteen Catholic colleges and schools in the Northern Territory. Christian schools have also thrown their support behind this response, strongly suggesting they would follow a similar course of action.

According to The Australian, Bishop Gauci said denying parents the right to send children to schools with religious teachings was “reverse discrimination”. Bishop Gauci went on to say:

            Denying faith schools the right of ensuring that their belief systems are upheld by            employing the right people is a violation of religious freedom.

            Can you imagine a Catholic school employing a leader of a school who advocates atheism, or        thinks that the beliefs of our church are silly?’

Christopher Brohier, the Australian Christian Lobby’s NT director has also called on the NT government to reverse the amendment saying,

            Everyone understands the right of political parties to hire staff who are members of their parties, and for other values based organisations to hire staff who adhere to their ethos.

            And yet the NT government plans to deny faith-based schools this same right. Religious schools    should not be forced to hire staff opposed to, or out of step, to their beliefs.

The Australian Association of Christian Schools has outlined the following key concerns:

The Bill will:

Remove the ability of Christian schools to hire only Christian staff by repealing the Religious Educational Institutions Employment Exemption (s37A)

This means a religious school would be unable to require all staff members to share the same religious belief and activity of the school unless it could be proven to be a ‘genuine occupational qualification’ (s35(1)(b)) which is a much higher bar and would ultimately need to be tested in the courts.

  • Prohibit conduct that could offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or group of people (s20A(1)(a))

This introduces a very low bar for unlawful conduct, meaning a Christian teacher or pastor could be forced to defend a complaint for merely sharing the gospel or a Bible reading that offends someone. 

  • Prevent Christian schools from being able to prioritise students on the basis of religious belief (s30(2))

This means where a Christian school is reaching capacity it will be unable to preference Christian families in enrolment decisions. 

  • Introduces a representative complaint system where a party may file a complaint about ‘systematic discrimination’ resulting from the ‘behaviour, practice, policy or program’ of an organisation without having to name or identify any actual complainant (s62A(2)) or even obtain the consent to the complaint being lodged (s62A(3)) 

This means a school which holds a traditional Biblical view of male female marriage could be accused of ‘systemic discrimination’ based on this belief despite support from the school community. 

The statement from the Association of Christian Schools goes on to state:

Implications for NT Christian Schools 

There is clearly a direct conflict between the Federal Labor Government’s expressed intention and direction to the ALRC to allow religious schools to ‘build a community of faith by giving preference, in good faith to persons of the same religion’ and the NT Labor Government’s legislative agenda. Also, there are concerning implications for states such as Queensland and Western Australian where there are new anti-discrimination laws being drafted and these governments might look to the example of NT and consider following a similar approach. 

If the Bill passes unamended, it will leave the Northern Territory as the only Australian jurisdiction without explicit legal protection for religious schools in employment matters. Such schools will be open to complaints of discrimination for their policies, employment and teaching practices and could be in the courts within the next six months defending themselves against vexatious complaints from activist representative bodies. 

The Lie of Same-Sex Marriage

Marsha Gessen, a lesbian political activist, let the genie of deliberate public deception out of the bottle all the way back in 2012 when she told the Sydney Writer’s Festival:

Fighting for gay marriage generally involves lying about what we are going to do with marriage when we get there. Because we lie that the institution of marriage is not going to change … that is a lie.

We should have woken up then but here we are, five years later, and the agenda of LGBTIQ activists is being well and truly implemented.

–  Mark Powell