Vic Government "out of touch with community values" say Christian Schools

As flagged well in advance, the Victorian Government’s bill to amend their Equal Opportunity Act will dramatically reduce the ability of Christian schools to hire staff of faith.

“The Equal Opportunity (Religious Exceptions) Amendment Bill 2021 introduced to Parliament today by the Victorian Government will make it increasingly difficult for Christian schools to employ staff who share the beliefs of the school and practice the Christian faith” according to a joint statement by Christian Schools Australia and the Australian Association of Christian Schools.

  • “Parents who choose to enrol their children in our schools want an education based on Christian values, which the state school system can no longer provide, and this Bill is trying to squeeze faith out of our schools too,” said Vanessa Cheng of the Australian Association of Christian Schools. “Once again the Victorian Government has shown it is completely out of touch with faith communities and does not understand of how our schools operate in practice.”

The two groups released results of a poll that show 78 per cent of Victorians support the right of religious schools to employ teachers and other staff who support the values and beliefs of the school. Theis support extended across the political spectrum with support from

  • 77 per cent of ALP voters
  • 89 per cent Liberal
  • 92 per cent National
  • 56 per cent Green

While many Christian institutions and other religious bodies are affected by the proposed law which will rule out discrimination in hiring, providing services and government-funded activities, schools are some of the institutions most affected

Schools that have had a policy of only hiring Christians, or mostly hiring Christians, will face cultural change, with teachers who are not believers will be hired. But there are some exemptions to this non-discrimination rule. In answers to a series of questions posed by Eternity, the Attorney-General’s department said that religious bodies  “will still be allowed to hire principals and other leaders who are adherents to their religion if this is part of establishing a culture of faith throughout the school or organisation.”

The bill could see schools that had a Christian only staff, having only a minority of Christians on their staff in the future. This is the logical result of the Government’s aim to reduce discrimination against persons on the basis of “sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, marital status, parental status or gender identity” as set out in the explanatory memorandum of the bill. In effect, the Government is saying schools that have attempted to operate as a Christian community with all staff being Christians have to abandon that ideal.

“Is a gardener or an office administrator not doing specifically Christian work because they are not teaching Scripture? asks Baptist Minister Murray Campbell in arguing against the bill. ” The Government is creating a false dichotomy that does not exist in the Christian faith, nor in many other religions. Every role is an expression of commitment to God and is a valuable part of the whole that serves a common purpose.”

The answers to Eternity gave an example of what would meet the “reasonable and proportionate” standard for a school to dismiss staff. “More specifically, schools will be able to fire a teacher if, for example, the teaching of religious ethos is a core part of their job (an ‘inherent requirement’) and they cease to be an adherent to the school’s religion, such that it is not possible to keep them on (i.e. the dismissal is ‘reasonable and proportionate’).

That will apply to a proportion of staff. But unless staff are formally engaged in teaching religion, a school can’t insist on hiring a person of faith. To take the issue of not discriminating against “lawful sexual activity”, that will mean that schools will be hiring people who might be engaged in many activities the faith basis of the school will be teaching against.

Other provisions in the bill will also mean that religious bodies will not be able to discriminate to whom they hire a campsite.