In a remarkable show of unity, Anglican, Baptist, Catholic, Coptic, Lutheran, and Presbyterian leaders have this week affirmed the existing equal opportunity laws and opposed the ALP’s intended restrictions on employment in religious organisations.
“This joint statement
shows how important freedom of association and freedom of religion is to a huge number of people in Victoria,” ACL's Victorian director Dan Flynn said.
The effect of the ALP proposal is that a Christian church will no longer have a right to employ a Christian secretary if a non-Christian applicant is more qualified, unless the church can prove to the Human Rights Commission that religion is an essential part of the role. This could result in people with opposing values being employed in Christian churches.
The proposed ALP changes, objected to by the church leaders, would require faith based schools to prove to the Human Rights Commission that preferring to employ a Christian teacher over a non-Christian teacher was because faith is an essential requirement of that teaching role.
Schools and religious organisations will be caught up in lengthy, costly and divisive court cases instead of delivering education and other services.
The statement of the church leaders said that “proposals to change the equal opportunity laws would allow judges to decide fundamental doctrines, beliefs and principles tenants of a faith for religious bodies.”
“Some faith-based schools seek to uphold a particular ethos and environment by employing people who will uphold that ethos regardless of the role they play in the school,” Mr Flynn said.
“Many parents wish to give their children an education consistent with their faith. Faith based education is not just about the content of the education but the context in which it is taught. This right is acknowledged in international human rights law and is now threatened by the ALP’s policy,” he said.
Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne Philip Freier said in the statement that “The current Equal Opportunity laws strike a fair balance between the right to equality, freedom of association and religious liberty”.
Mr Flynn said that during the Victorian election campaign, ACL has conducted 14 “Meet Your Candidate” forums across Victoria, from Bairnsdale to Ballarat. Almost universally, when questioned about the proposed changes, ALP candidates have defended them on the basis that they were supported by the Catholic Church in 2010.
“It is now clear that the Catholic Church and other major denominations do not support the reinsertion of the “inherent requirements test” in the Act,” he said.
Mr Flynn added that over 3,500 individuals have emailed Daniel Andrews and his candidates explaining their opposition to the policy.
“The ALP’s policy has been a key issue in ACL’s election campaigning and has created enormous grass roots concern across the state,” he said.