A Dubbo headmaster was one of 34 signatories of an open letter that calls on federal MPs to maintain legal exemptions that make it possible for schools to dismiss teachers who don’t align with their faith.
The letter was signed by Macqaurie Anglican Grammar School headmaster Craig Mansour among the principals of other schools in the Anglican Schools Corporation.
The principals’ letter follows the introduction of a bill to stop discrimination (in the form of an exemption to the Sex Discrimination Act 1984) against gay students. The government is still considering whether to end the exemptions for teachers.
Mr Mansour said it was not “just about gay teachers and students” it was about “maintaining the right to employ staff” who uphold the Christian ethos of the school.
He said what they were “striving to do as a school and as a group of schools … is to maintain the right to employ people who support the ethos of the school”.
Concerns were raised about the tenure of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, questioning and a-sexual (LGBTIQA+) students and staff at schools after the letter became public.
“We know that there is a discussion going on in parliament or more broadly in politics about the right of religious organisations to maintain that ability to discriminate,” Mr Mansour said.
“We feel it is important for our schools to be able to do that when it comes to employment.”
The letter said “there was no effective protection under Australian law that guarantees religious freedom for both belief and action”.
“We would expect to maintain the right too if necessary, as all employers do, to dismiss people who no longer support the ethos of the school. Every organisation deserves that right,” Mr Mansour said.
He said the move wasn’t about targeting LGBTIQA+ students.
“There is no way in any way shape or form that a gay student would ever be expelled from this school,” Mr Mansour said.
“It’s really important from the start to say the gay student discussion, it’s not an issue for us, we want any student from anywhere to come to our schools.”
Mr Mansour said to say it was about “gay teachers” was incorrect and narrowed the debate.
“The debate is about having a conversation with people when they apply for jobs at our school that asks them whether their lifestyle choices would fit within the ethos of the school and have that conversation,” he said.
“Teaching is not just about standing in front of a class and delivering information, that’s why it’s called a vocation.
“It’s about engaging fully in the school and the life of the school.”
When asked what personal qualities were part of or against the school’s ethos Mr Mansour said there wasn’t a simple answer.
“It’s such a broad statement, if I get really specific it could be taken out of context or limit what we’re trying to achieve,” he said.
“I don’t know if I could do that question justice in a simple answer.
“That’s why we have interviews and that’s why we have discussion.”
When asked whether a teacher would be unsuccessful in a job application if they described their sexual orientation or lifestyle he said “every employment process was different”.
“When we talk to people about employment in our school there are many reasons why people will fit within, and are able to support, the ethos of the school and we just want to maintain the capability to be able to make that choice as a school,” Mr Mansour said.
He said since the letter was signed there had been mixed feedback from the school community.
However, Mr Mansour said no teachers from the school had approached him about concerns for their future employment with the school.
Read the open letter to all members of Parliament of Australia from heads of Anglican schools.
As Principals and Heads of Anglican Schools in Greater Sydney and the Illawarra we write this public letter to all members of Parliament of Australia.
There has been quite some discussion recently about the rights of faith-based schools and their current exemptions under federal anti-discrimination legislation. The debate has been polemicised as the right to expel gay students, with little evidence that this occurs, and the right to dismiss gay staff members, again with little evidence that this occurs.
By and large across faith-based schools, the issue at hand is the right to employ staff who support the ethos of the school. Some schools require evidence of an active faith that is consistent with the philosophy and ethos of the school. In other schools, there is a preference for employment of active adherents of the faith, but other staff, who may not personally identify with the faith, are still expected to support the overarching mission and ethos of the school. This is not inconsistent with the practice of most employers and their corporate goals, let alone political parties. It is overly simplistic to state that a teacher merely delvers academic content in the classroom. This ignores the powerful mentor and exemplar role all teachers play, and are expected to play, in the education of young people. Therefore, it is essential that a teacher supports the values, ethos and mission of the school as much as he or she can. It is not appropriate, for example, for a teacher to undermine or denigrate the beliefs and teachings of an employing school. This is a reasonable expectation not only of the employing school but also of many parents and families who have chosen the school for their children's education.
There is no effective protection under Australian law that guarantees religious freedom for both belief and action. This is strange given that it is enshrined in the United Nations' International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Australia has formally ratified. The current exemptions, however clumsy, in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 are really the only significant legal protections available to school to maintain their ethos and values with regards to core issues of faith. A more general positive right would be far better, but until such time as religious freedom is codified in legislation, the exemptions should remain.
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