Archbishop: ALRC report attacks religious freedom and parental rights

By Catherine Sheehan

Archbishop Julian Porteous has described the Australian Law Reform Commission’s report on religious educational institutions and anti-discrimination laws as an attack on religious freedom and on the right of parents to choose faith-based education for their children.

He said the report’s recommendation to repeal section 38 of the Sex Discrimination Act which currently provides exemptions for religious educational institutions would be highly detrimental to Catholic education.

“Any attempt to remove section 38 protections from the SDA and not replace them with similar protections would constitute a fundamental attack on religious freedom,” Archbishop Porteous said.

“Parents make great sacrifices to send their children to Catholic schools precisely because they want them to receive a faith-based education within a school with a fully Catholic culture”.

“The measures being recommended by the ALRC therefore also constitute a fundamental attack on the right of parents to educate their children in the way they believe is best for their children”.

The Archbishop called on the Albanese government and the Opposition to reject the ALRC’s recommendations.

“I have a duty as a Catholic bishop to ensure that Catholic schools within the Archdiocese of Hobart follow the tenants and doctrines of the Catholic faith,” he said.

“If the government does not reject these recommendations then it will clearly demonstrate that it does not genuinely respect the right to religious freedom, or for that matter the right of parents.”

The ALRC’s report ‘Maximising the Realisation of Human Rights: Religious Educational Institutions and Anti-Discrimination Laws’ was tabled in the federal parliament on 21 March by Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus.

Its recommendations were met with condemnation from faith leaders around the country.

Speaking on behalf of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Archbishop Peter Comensoli, said Catholic schools “want to be free to be authentically Catholic in their daily activities”.

“Catholic schools exist to be witnesses of a Catholic mission and ethos by all staff supporting, teaching, and exemplifying a Catholic approach to life,” Archbishop Comensoli said.

“Catholic schools want the capacity to employ and manage staff who support the schools’ Catholic mission and ethos.

National Catholic Education Commission (NCEC) executive director Jacinta Collins said the ALRC’s report overlooked the concerns of religious leaders.

“Religious freedom is a fundamental human right and the Parliament has a responsibility to enact Australia’s international commitments to ensure parents can continue to choose a school in line with their values and beliefs and provide faith-based schools with the certainty to employ staff that support their ethos,” Ms Collins said.

Just before Easter a coalition of faith leaders and educators from around the country wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister urging him to reject the ALRC’s recommendations and to seek bipartisan support for any legislative changes. The 41 Christian, Islamic, Hindu and Jewish leaders warned Mr Albanese that if enacted the legislation would be disastrous for faith-based schools and would violate the international human right of parents to choose authentic religious education for their children.

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