Victorian AG answers questions about Christian schools affected by their new law


Victoria is planning legislation that will reduce religious exemptions to anti-discrimination laws “making it illegal for religious organizations and schools to discriminate against an employee based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status or otherwise. protected attribute ”.

Eternity described the proposal as providing “More opportunities for LGBTIQ people and less hiring freedom for Christian schools and other institutions is the goal of the new Victorian laws announced by the Andrews government.”

We put a series of questions to the Crown for the sake of clarity, and they gave us a very detailed answer. The questions of eternity are in fat. As expected, questions remain for the government consultation process. We hope this will slow the process down. John sandeman

First of all, we want to clarify the scope and intention of these reforms. The specific answers to the questions are presented below.

Your readers should be confident that, as a school or faith-based service provider, this legislation will not take away their right to establish a faith-based culture in the organization by recruiting and promoting followers of their religion.

The vast majority of schools and religious organizations will be able to continue to function as they do now. They will still be allowed to hire principals and other leaders who adhere to their religion if this is part of establishing a culture of faith throughout the school or organization.

The overarching intention of these reforms is to prevent discrimination based on a person’s gender identity, sexuality or other aspects of a person’s identity, when that person is not linked to the religious beliefs of the person. person or the nature of their role. It is about eliminating practices that exclude particular individuals – whether based on gender identity, sexuality, marital status, etc. – when it does not affect the person’s ability to do his job.

Legislation will effectively tell religious organizations that when making decisions about hiring, firing, etc., they can prioritize followers of their faith, but cannot fire someone because a protected aspect of their identity is. in conflict with the religious views of the organization. They can only fire such staff if the views they hold fundamentally undermine their ability to serve the school or organization in accordance with their faith.

Specifically, schools will be able to fire a teacher if, for example, teaching religious ethics is an integral part of their job (an “inherent requirement”) and they cease to adhere to the religion of the school. , so that it is impossible to maintain them (ie the dismissal is “reasonable and proportionate”).

However, they will not be able to fire, for example, a non-teaching staff member who has no contact with students and who is not otherwise involved in religious worship at school (i.e. the role). Likewise, schools will not be able to use religious belief as a means of firing someone because of their identity. For example, if a school is aware that several teachers do not have their required religious beliefs but are only taking action against a gay teacher, it would be illegal.

It is important to note that the reforms will not affect religious bodies such as churches and mosques in the appointment of ministers, the training and education of ministers, and with respect to those who participate in religious practices. These organizations currently benefit from specific protections in these areas, which is not changing.

Will religious schools be able to hire principals and other executives based on the religious beliefs of the school? The press release only refers to professors of religious studies.

Religious schools will continue to be able to employ followers of their religion and require their employees to uphold the religious ethics of the school. This applies not only to chaplains and others, but also to directors and other executives.

The ability of religious schools to illegally discriminate against staff on certain grounds will require a clear connection between the employee’s role and a religious belief. This connection is known as the “inherent requirement” and means that the person legitimately cannot do what the job requires. For example, in other contexts discrimination is allowed when:

  • A person under the age of 18 may not be able to meet the demands of a delivery job if they are not yet eligible for a driver’s license
  • If a government agency is looking for an Aboriginal liaison person, they may say that they will only hire an Aboriginal person.

Some schools require teachers to teach the reflection of religious beliefs throughout the curriculum and hire believers on this basis. These schools may not have a separate category of “teacher of religious studies”. Will these schools have to stop doing this or restructure their staff?

Religious schools can continue to recruit and hire staff who support the religious beliefs of the school. The school will need to consider what roles require teachers to communicate the religious ethics of the school, as these are the roles where adherence to religion may be required. For some schools, this may include more than a religious studies teacher.

Schools based in religions that do not affirm the sexual orientation of LGBTIQ people will have education that contradicts the identity of LGBTIQ staff. Will this mean that staff will not be able to delay teaching schools?

The proposed changes protect staff from abuse on grounds protected by anti-discrimination laws, including sexuality, gender identity, marital status, disability, etc. The changes mean that religious beliefs that allow unfavorable treatment unrelated to the role of the person may not be covered by an exception.

Example: A school learns that a staff member is gay after attending a pride event at their own pace, unrelated to their school duties. The teacher remains open to promoting the religious views of the school to the students. The changes mean that it may be illegal for this school to take adverse action against the staff member.

Whether unfavorable treatment (such as dismissal of a staff member) is protected by a religious belief exception will depend on whether compliance with religious doctrine is a requirement inherent in the teacher’s role. , if the teacher is unable to meet this requirement because of his or her religious belief, and if the school’s action was reasonable and proportionate in the circumstances.

Example: A teacher whose role includes a substantial amount of religious instruction, converts to another religion or cannot continue to promote the point of view of religion to the student, and is not fit to continue in another role. The school will be able to fire the teacher.

Will this legislation mean that local churches will have to hire staff who may wish to live in opposition to church teaching?

The Equal Opportunities Act currently provides broad exceptions for churches with regard to the ordination or appointment of priests or other ministers of religion, training or education of those seeking ordination or appointment. ministers and choosing people to participate in religious practices. We are not changing these provisions.

With respect to other staff, religious organizations, including churches, will still be able to hire followers of the faith when this is an inherent requirement of the role.

Should a religious bookstore hire staff who might wish to live in opposition to the views of bookstores as a religious organization?

If a religious bookstore is considered a “religious organization” under the law, it will have the same exceptions for personnel as those that apply to other religious organizations such as schools and welfare agencies. . The bookstore may be able to legally discriminate against a staff member on the basis of the staff member’s religious belief if compliance with religious beliefs is an inherent requirement of the role and the action proposed by the bookstore is reasonable and proportionate within circumstances.

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