Australian Catholic Bishops Conference defends protections for religious schools

Australian Catholic bishops have called on the Federal Government to uphold protections for religious schools in the Sex Discrimination Act after the Opposition declared exemptions should be repealed.

Shadow Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, announced on November 28 that the Opposition would introduce a bill to repeal the exemptions for religious schools in section 38(3) of the Sex Discrimination Act.

In response the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference released a statement defending the right of schools to operate according to their faith.

Australian Catholic Bishops Conference spokesperson on religious freedom, Archbishop Peter A Comensoli, said Catholic schools did not use these exemptions to expel students for their sexual orientation or gender identity but rather to safeguard teaching the Christian tradition.

“These exemptions are important to us because schools want to maintain the capacity to teach a Christian understanding of sexual ethics and marriage according to our faith tradition,” Archbishop Comensoli said. “Our right to continue to teach Catholic beliefs is threatened by proposals to repeal existing faith-based exemptions for religious schools and institutions.”

This teaching was based on the Catholic faith and included educating students in the Gospels, the traditions of the Catholic Church and leading a moral life which showed concern for the poor, Archbishop Comensoli said. “The provisions in section 38(3) of the Sex Discrimination Act are necessary because some people may claim that our Catholic beliefs are unjustly discriminatory and we need to have the assurance that we can pursue our religious mission without legal risk.”

Archbishop Comensoli said Catholic schools wanted to continue to be able to teach the Catholic faith and therefore Parliament should reject any attempt to repeal Section 38 protections without alternative protections in place to protect faith-based learning. “It is not appropriate to propose important changes to religious freedom law before we have seen the report of the review led by Philip Ruddock.”

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