Response to Susie O’Brien – Herald Sun

A number of schools contacted CSA following the publication of an Opinion article in the Herald Sun on 22 October where some CSA member schools were named.  As our response was not published by the Herald Sun we have included it with the original article below.


Susie O’Brien: Protect the human rights of gay teachers

Susie O’Brien, Opinion, Herald Sun, October 22, 2018 8:17pm

IT’S not Christian to sack or ban gay teachers. It’s immoral and should be outlawed in all Australian schools.

Let’s stop giving bigoted religious schools legal permission to discriminate against teachers who are same-sex attracted.

While discrimination of gay students has been soundly rejected on all sides of politics, there is more of an acceptance that church schools should be able to fire or exclude gay teachers.

Sacking staff on the basis of sexuality is the very antithesis of Christian values.

I want to challenge that view. This is important and not just for teachers like Craig Campbell who was sacked from a WA Baptist school after he took his same-sex partner to his aunt’s wedding.

It’s vital for all teachers working in religious schools who hide the truth about their loved ones for fear of losing their jobs. Sacking staff on the basis of sexuality, when sexual identity is not a choice but a destiny, is the very antithesis of Christian values. Being gay is not the same as having extramarital sex or sex before marriage.

It’s not a choice people have; it’s a biological fact and it’s legal in our society. So it does seem extraordinary that same-sex attracted people can legally marry and then just as legally be sacked because of their relationship.

It’s not just a matter of private schools being accountable because they accept public funding. A deeper moral issue is at stake. Laws need to keep up with our values as a society.

Australian data shows that between 3 and 5 per cent of people are gay, and one in three people in same-sex couples are Christian. Of those in couples, 3.8 per cent are teachers.

Church groups fighting for their right to discriminate on the basis of sexuality are turning their backs on members of their own congregations who are gay. The government should not be giving them the right to reject and isolate those who most need support and inclusion.

This is an issue many Christian schools are currently grappling with. However, it’s important to note that the anti-homosexual stance is not reflected at many religious schools.

I was proud last week to see the Anglican school, Trinity Grammar in Kew, take a lead role in this area. Principal Phil De Young wrote to parents stating religious discrimination exemptions are “absolutely out of step with our deep commitment to be a safe and supportive place for all students, families and staff, regardless of their sexuality, faith position, race and ethnicity, or ability”.

Laws need to keep up with our values as a society.

The Catholic Education Office takes a similar stance although many of its leaders campaigned against same-sex marriage. It notes “those experiencing same-sex attraction must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided”. One teachers’ resource from the Catholic sector reads: “A person’s sexual orientation has no bearing on their appointment as a staff member or to a position of responsibility.”

The biggest problem seems to be within the evangelical, Bible-based Christian schools’ sector that has about 130,000 students nationally. Many such schools have values statements that mandate teachers must abstain from “premarital sex, extramarital sex and homosexual activities” as well as “avoiding greed, lust, pornography, gluttony, addiction and drunkenness”.

For instance, the teacher application form for St Andrews Christian College in Wantirna South states that sexual intimacy “is to be between one man and one woman” and there should be abstinence from “homosexual relationships”. At Lighthouse Christian College in Keysborough, aspiring teachers have to offer their view of homosexuality because the school believes it will impact on how teachers relate to the school community.

The same goes at Red Rock Christian College in Sunbury. The deputy principal has said on the ABC that any gay member of staff would be sacked on a “case-by-case basis”.

Sexual orientation doesn’t affect a person’s ability to teach, as Queensland Labor MP Terri Butler pointed out a few weeks ago. “A gay teacher doesn’t teach gay maths. They just teach maths,” she said. It was a cut-through moment in this debate.

At this point, both the Labor Party and the Greens have moved motions that would remove the ability of religious schools to hire and fire staff based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or relationship status.

It’s great that senior Liberal figures such as Treasurer Josh Frydenberg have signalled their support. Let’s hope Prime Minister Scott Morrison supports the Bill despite his own conservative Christian views.

Ultimately, taxpayers should not fund a system that discriminates against a proportion of the population. But this is not just about funding; it’s about rights and dignity.

When one person’s religious beliefs come up against another person’s human rights, human rights should win out every time.

SUSIE O’BRIEN IS A HERALD SUN COLUMNIST


The Essence of a Free Society

 

It’s un-Australian to force your beliefs on others, as Christians we are well aware of how strong the ‘each to his own’ culture is when we try and share our faith.

If Christian schools ever suggested that the views of other schools should be outlawed and only our faith and belief allowed there would be outrage – and rightly so!

Australia has built on its Judeo-Christian heritage into a healthy and largely harmonious, pluralist democracy.  We are a tolerant and accepting people by and large. That tolerate and accepting attitude really only gets tested when we are confronted by difference.

The evangelical, Bible-based Christian schools’ sector has grown rapidly over the last three decades.  As the name implies these schools hold to a traditional, orthodox, Bible-based theology.  The same core beliefs held by Christians across the centuries and today by millions around the globe.

Of course, not everyone holds to these beliefs in the same way our schools would.  There are other faiths, those with no faith and those with a Christian faith who have a different theological position.  Church history is full of faithful and devout followers of Christ who genuinely hold different views.  We accept that within the church.  We don’t try and outlaw diversity but gather together as communities of shared faith and beliefs – allowing others to do likewise.

While the beliefs of evangelical, Bible-based Christian schools cover a wide range of matters it is our views on sexuality and sexual conduct that seem to garner the attention of the community.  A Biblical view of sexual morality holds that a person’s decisions regarding his or her body are physically, spiritually and emotionally inseparable. Such decisions affect a person’s ability to live out God’s intention for wholeness in relationship to God, to others, and to oneself. Further, the Bible affirms sexual intimacy is reserved for marriage between one man and one woman.

We acknowledge people face significant challenges in practising Biblical sexual morality within our highly sexualised culture, that these standards may not be accepted by everyone.  We are not seeking to impose them on all schools.

Yet we are seeking to ensure that they are followed on our schools.  Not merely given lip service in what is taught but modelled in the lives and relationships of our staff.  Our application forms and employment documentation are as clear as we can be about our standards and expectations.  Nobody is forced to apply and there are many other fine schools across Victoria where staff can choose to work if they don’t share our values and beliefs.

Every teacher across Victoria will also tell you that there is much more to their role than merely conveying curriculum content.  Teachers of maths don’t just teach maths – they guide and assist young people through the often difficult and confronting task of growing up.  Teachers support the roles of parents in raising these young people, helping them to work out who they are, who they want to be, and, in Christian schools like ours, who they are in relationship to Christ and what He wants for their lives.

As is often said, it takes a village to raise a child.  In our context it takes Christian teachers and staff who share our faith, values and beliefs.

That is why the religious freedom of parents to choose a school that shares their beliefs is a fundamental human right.  A human right provided the highest protection in international law and described in the High Court as ‘the essence of a free society’.

Susie O’Brien might not share these views, but that is actually OK.  I’d fight for her right to hold them, express them and even teach them.

I’d hope that she would do the same.

 

Mark Spencer
Executive Officer, National Policy
Christian Schools Australia

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