Missing: schools that expel gay students

Eternity has been hunting for schools that have expelled gay students and we haven’t found any.

“It’s a fake debate,” Fairfax’s political editor, Peter Hartcher says of the current religious freedom debate. He’s right. But not because of his suggestion that there is no appetite for religious freedom to be on the national agenda.

Rather, it’s because of a missing link in the debate on whether schools should be able to expel LGBTI students.

No school lobby group has called for the explicit right to expel students on account of their sexuality.

Archbishop Glenn Davies making his big set piece speech at the Sydney Anglican Synod (gathering of church reps) emphasised that his brand of conservative Christianity did not wish to keep gay students out of schools but was keen to be able to choose staff to suit the Christian ethos of its schools.

He denounced the “enemies of religion” who he said had misinterpreted the Ruddock panel’s proposals to further marginalise people of faith.

Mark Spencer from Christian Schools Australia, which represents a large slice of the low-fee Christian school sector tells Eternity, “expelling students solely on the basis of their sexuality is not something we do.”

In fact, he says, there are same-sex parents, couples, at CSA schools.

“I don’t know of any school where a student has been expelled for their sexuality,” says Annette Pereira, executive officer of the Australian Association of Christian Schools (AACS, which represents most of the rest of the low-fee school sector.) “Students are more likely to be expelled for bullying a gay student.” She emphasised that AACS has not sought the right to expel LGBT students.

Australia’s top Catholic, Archbishop Mark Coleridge, says Catholic schools have not sought to discriminate against students or teachers: “Catholic schools welcome staff and students from all backgrounds who are willing to accept the declared mission and values of the school community,” he told Jewel Topsfield, the journalist who broke the Ruddock report leak story.

That leaves high-fee independent schools, about which there have been no suggestions that they might expel gay students in the current debate – although some did in the distant past.

A possible exception to our hunt for LGBT student expelling academies is one school in WA, Foundation Christian College in Mandurah. A seven-year-old girl left the school after a dispute between the school and her gay father, which centred on whether the parent would uphold the ethos of the school.

The leak of the Ruddock recommendations has focused the religious freedom debate on LGBT rights just before the Wentworth by-election – in a heavily LGBT electorate. Whoever leaked the Ruddock report did Scott Morrison no favours. The report had been circulated around the Liberal party room and was leaked to Melbourne-based Topsfield

Among the 16,000 submissions to the Ruddock panel on religious freedom there may have been some who supported Christian schools expelling same-sex students. There is also a passage in the CSA submission that is somewhat vague that might have been interpreted that way, but CSA says that was not being sought. But clear support for schools being able to expel gay students has come from some conservative Coalition politicians, such as Alex Hawke.

The leak threatens one right many Christian schools want to retain: the right to select staff who are of their faith or are willing to uphold a Christian ethos. Opening up the issue of student expulsions has now been linked to staff selection policy. Labor and the Coalition have now said they will roll back the right of a school to refuse a teacher on the basis of their sexuality.

“I believe we can use this goodwill to go further and remove the exemption that would allow a teacher or school staff member to be sacked or refused employment because of their sexual orientation,” Labor’s Bill Shorten has told The Guardian.

The Liberal’s Dave Sharma and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg have signalled their agreement with the Labor stance of widening the anti-discrimination provisions to include teachers.