The Archbishop of Sydney, Glenn Davies, today apologised to anyone distressed by a letter to Federal MPs from Sydney Anglican schools about religious freedom, saying the issue has led to hurt and pain.
In a statement, he said the “intent was to promote religious freedom for Anglican schools, but I realise that it had the unfortunate consequence of affecting many gay students and teachers in our schools, for which I am deeply sorry.”
The letter was widely criticised in the media and precipitated a social media firestorm. An outcry over the letter by former and current students of the 34 schools that put their names to the letter has caused deep distress to the signatories, with Barker College’s Head, Phillip Heath, even receiving hate mail over it. In his statement, Archbishop Davies acknowledged the unforeseen hurt that had been caused.
“Our schools are open to everyone, without discrimination, for parents who desire an education for their children in the Anglican tradition.” – Glenn Davies
“I have been told by the Heads of our schools of the distress the letter has caused. There were fears that gay students were going to be expelled or gay teachers sacked. This really saddens me. Our schools do not expel students or dismiss staff on the basis of their sexuality, nor have they ever wanted this right. All people are created in God’s image and valued in his sight, and in the sight of our schools. Our schools are open to everyone, without discrimination, for parents who desire an education for their children in the Anglican tradition.”
He commended the Heads, councils and staff of the 34 schools for the statements they have made and their caring responses.
“The Heads, councils and staff of our schools are committed to the welfare of students and have been tireless in addressing the concerns expressed by their school communities,” he said.
“This past week has demonstrated it is untenable that religious freedoms be expressed as exemptions in discrimination acts. Some exemptions, such as those relating to sexuality, we do not use and have no wish to preserve. But the mere fact these remain on the statute books has alarmed people. Therefore, I have approached the government and the opposition for an immediate bipartisan approach which would remove these exemptions and create legislation which provides a positive protection for freedom of religion.”
“It was not intended as a message of discrimination or cruelty and I am truly distressed to see this impact.” – Phillip Heath
On Tuesday, Phillip Heath wrote a letter to the Barker school community, acknowledging the hurt caused by the letter, which he said was signed in response to a request from the Diocese of Sydney.
“The advice I received was that it would help support the parliamentary debate into religious freedom. It is now clear the letter has generated unintended hurt and division. It was not intended as a message of discrimination or cruelty and I am truly distressed to see this impact.”
He stressed that he was strongly advocating for the removal of “deeply troubling and completely outdated” exemptions in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 that relate to LGBTQIA+ .
“I reiterate my position that the School strongly encourages inclusion and no student or member of staff of Barker College will ever be removed from our community on the grounds of their gender, their sexuality or their beliefs.”
Mr Heath sounded a hopeful note about moving the debate forward in the future to one that reflects the gospel of love and acceptance.
“While I cannot immediately repair the hurt caused by the letter, I believe the current situation creates the platform for a measured, respectful national discussion about what “freedom of religion” means.
“We cannot unwind the events of the past week. Over the coming days and weeks, my focus is on doing everything within my power to demonstrate that Barker is a place characterised by Jesus’ love, grace and compassion for all.”