Victorian Labor’s “standard response” to voters concerned about its anti-religious freedom policy is giving no one comfort that their freedoms will not be trampled, according to the Australian Christian Lobby.
Since Friday, more than 1500 Victorians have responded to an ACL call to email Labor leader Daniel Andrews and his candidates about their concerns for religious freedom.
Victorian Labor is taking a policy to the election which will restrict the freedom of religious schools and organisations to select staff who share their ethos, ACL Victorian Director Dan Flynn said.
“Political parties have no such restriction and it does not seem fair that religious schools and organisations should have a different standard forced upon them.
“Victorian Labor’s policy would have the consequence that religious organisations could be forced to employ staff who do not share their ethos. That is absurd,” Mr Flynn said.
“Freedom of religion and freedom of association means parents should be free to enrol children in a school that they know whose staff will uphold the religious ethos of the school.
“It is not for the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission and the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal to dictate the staff a religious community employs.”
Mr Flynn said Labor’s “standard response” email did not allay concerns about religious freedom.
“Many roles - teachers, managers and staff - will be subject to Labor’s ‘inherent requirements test’. How the test works will be determined not by religious schools and organisations but by the Commission,VCAT and the courts,” Mr Flynn said.
“In 2009 when the inherent requirements test was first proposed, the CEO of VEOHRC Dr Helen Szoke wrote that the roles of religious education teacher or a chaplain in a religious school would pass the test and could be required to share the school's religious beliefs, but ‘in the case of office staff or the maths teacher, it will need to be made explicit [by the school] how religion is relevant to the job’. (The Age 20/9/09).
“So the human rights bureaucracy enforcing this is unlikely to buy Labor’s ‘standard response’. They argue that the inherent requirements test will not allow religious bodies or schools to use religious beliefs to select teachers of maths, history, English or sports (or any other subject except religious studies) or to select administrators or managers or front office staff.”
Mr Flynn said ACL had worked to try and convince Labor not to undermine religious freedom. Victorian voters, in large numbers, are now calling forreligious freedom to be a priority in the election campaign.