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Christian education groups have championed the “right” of schools to discipline or even fire a teacher who divorces, cheats on a spouse, or enters a non-heterosexual relationship.
Speaking in a parliamentary inquiry, Christian Schools Australia and the Australian Christian Higher Education Alliance said faith-based schools should be able to selectively hire staff who reflect the religious beliefs of the school.
Asked how religious schools might treat a divorced staff member, CSA policy officer Mark Spencer said the employee could be fired for contradicting the school’s values.
“Whether or not they’ve been divorced may or may not – depending on the context and how they reacted to it – have an impact on their jobs,” Spencer told the inquest.
“It’s really impossible to be clear about that. You might have a range of situations where, depending on how they responded, if they were still suitable for this school.”
Spencer’s controversial comments come amid significant disagreements across the political spectrum over the bill’s potential impacts on religious discrimination.
The bill would affirm the right of religious schools to hire exclusively staff with the same belief system and would override existing state laws aimed at preventing this type of discrimination.
ACHEA President and Principal of Morling College Ross Clifford has defended his school’s decision to fire former teacher Karen Pack after announcing plans to marry his partner.
“It’s a pretty important position to teach in a theological college, which trains and equips people for Christian ministry, and you actually live in that context a way of life and a way of life incompatible with the teachings.” , Clifford said. .
The engaged Baptist said the employment impacts of a teacher’s divorce would be considered on a case-by-case basis and would be determined by the school’s individual value system.
“If it is a divorce because the person leads a totally inconsistent life and the partner has left them because of their infidelity or whatever, it would be very different from a divorce situation where a marriage has just broken down, ”he said.
But Australian Discrimination Law Expert Group representative Dr Cristy Clark told the inquiry that the provision in the Religious Discrimination Bill that would affirm such behavior on the part of schools was a violation of international legal standards.
“It’s uneven protection of the rights of people to manifest their religion or beliefs because only certain people have that protection,” Clark said.
“In some cases, this may mean that institutions obtain their protection beyond individuals, for example, in the educational or professional context.
“It is fundamentally incompatible with international human rights law and the way it is supposed to be implemented.”