Last month, the Victorian Green’s Bill to restrict Christian schools from enrolling students based on their values and beliefs, was voted down in the Victorian Legislative Council.
Sometimes good news doesn’t seem to come along that often, but this was definitely good news!
The Equal Opportunity Amendment (Equality for Students) Bill specifically sought to curb the rights of religious organisations and schools by making it unlawful to enrol all students based on shared religious values.
Thankfully the Bill was defeated, with only six MPs voting in favour of the Bill, and 32 against. The six MPs were made up of all five Greens MPs, and the one MP from the Australian Sex Party.
Despite being presented in a similar way to the ALP’s Equal Opportunity Amendment (Religious Exceptions) Bill that is currently before the Legislative Council, and seeks to restrict Christian schools from employing staff based on their values and ethos, reason prevailed, and all ALP MPs voted against the Bill.
This overwhelming defeat sends a strong message to those seeking to attack religious freedom through parliamentary means.
Faith-based schools have long operated with this fundamental religious freedom, that allows them the freedom of association to form communities based on religious beliefs and values.
One of Victoria’s strengths is the diversity in the types of schools available, giving parents the ability to choose where to enrol their children.
Often, faith-based schools are chosen because of the values and ethos that are taught, especially with more and more schools signing on to the so-called Safe Schools program without consulting parents.
As the limiting of freedom of association has only been placed on religious groups and schools, and not on organisations such as political parties, who are still allowed to refuse members or employees who do not share their core party values, it is a relief that common sense prevailed on this occasion, and such targeted restrictions rejected.
For now, the freedom of citizens to establish and maintain voluntary associations remains, but we must remain vigilant to future challenges.
This week, the Andrews Government has its own Bill before the Upper House which again attacks freedom of association and freedom of religion.