Religious freedom faces a tough test

A private member’s bill to remove the ability of schools to discriminate against the hiring of gay teachers will be debated in the Senate today.

The Labor, Green, Centre Alliance, Derryn Hinch and independent Tim Storer combined to suspend standing orders to allow a motion moved by the Greens leader Richard Di Natale to be debated The Guardian reports. The motion will remove  religious exemptions to discrimination law for teachers and school staff. Update the bill is here. The “”Discrimination Free Schools Bill”, and christian commentators have now pointed out it will apply to Bible Colleges as well as schools.

The Wentworth by-election increases the pressures on the coalition. Some prominent Liberals, including Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Dave Sharma have declared their support for removing a schools ability to decide not to appoint gay teachers.

The youth-oriented “junkee’ website has an apposite headline: “This Whole Religious Freedom Thing Really Backfired For The Government, Hey?”

Professor Neil Foster gives an analysis of the effects of the proposed legislation  on his Law and Religion Australia blog “Religious schools exist because parents want the option to see their children educated in an institution which supports their religious and moral worldview. Students do not just learn academic truths from their teachers; in many cases they admire them as people, and model themselves on the values their teachers live out. Hence someone who is committed, by their identification and activity, to opposing the moral framework of the school, is not suitable to be working as part of that school community.”

Whether religious institutions that rely on government funding can expect to enjoy the high degree of independence that they have had in the past is what is being tested in the Federal Parliament.