Catholic Education's response to Religious Discrimination Legislation

The Australian Parliament is currently considering proposed legislation on religious freedom. The Religious Discrimination Bill 2021 and related bills are the subject of two inquiries before parliamentary debate resumes in February.

This is important legislation that will include protections for the rights of parents to choose a faith-based school for their children that reflects their beliefs and values, and for Catholic schools to operate according to their ethos and mission.

Catholic Education is responding to these inquiries through written submissions and appearances at the inquiries.

In summary, Catholic Education believes:

  • Catholic schools should be free to be Catholic
  • Religious freedom deserves the same protection as other rights in Australia, ensuring a fair and reasonable balance with other protected rights
  • This bill is about protecting religious rights, not discriminating against people who don’t support the same religious view
  • Parents should have the right to choose a school for their children that reflects their values and belief
  • Catholic schools don’t, and are not seeking to, discriminate against people on the basis of their personal attributes
  • Governments should protect the rights of Australians to associate on common religious beliefs
  • Australia needs the harmonisation of legislation for religious freedom to prevent over-reach of state legislation on faith-based schools

63% of the general population, 82% of Catholics and 79% of parents with children in Catholic schools believe “Religious schools are entitled to require employees to act in their roles that uphold the ethos and values of that faith and the school should be free to favour hiring employees who share these values” *

* Finding from a large community issues survey on a range of issues from school funding to religious freedom undertaken by a respected national pollster, John Utting Research (November 2021).

Background

There are three bills currently before Federal Parliament in relation to religious freedom:

There are two Inquiries relating to the legislation that are reporting back by 4 February 2022. They are:

1. JOINT PARLIAMENTARY INQUIRY: Religious Discrimination Bill 2021 and related bills Submissions by 21 December 2022. Public Hearings on 21 December, 13 and 14 January 2022. NB: NCEC Executive Director, Jacinta Collins and Deputy Director, Sally Egan appeared at the hearing on 21 December 2021

2. SENATE INQUIRY: Religious Discrimination Bill 2021; Religious Discrimination (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2021 and Human Rights Legislation Amendment Bill 2021 [Provisions] Submissions by 7 January 2022. Public Hearings on 20 and 21 January 2022. NB: Program to be confirmed

Summary of proposed Religious Discrimination Bill 2021
(as it pertains to Catholic education) 

  • The legislation seeks to protect the freedom of religion and to ensure, as far as practicable, that everyone has the same rights to equality before the law, regardless of religious belief or activity
  • In relation to some religious bodies (including religious educational institutions), the legislation outlines conduct that is not considered discrimination in the Act:
    • by engaging, in good faith, in conduct that a person of the same religion as the religious body could reasonably consider to be in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of that religion
    • by engaging, in good faith, in conduct to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of the same religion as the religious body
    • including giving preference to persons of the same religion as the religious body
    • Note: Conduct that is not discrimination under this Act may still constitute direct or indirect discrimination under other anti-discrimination laws of the Commonwealth including, for example, the Sex Discrimination Act 1984.
  • Religious educational institutions must have a publicly available policy in relation to conduct in the context of employment.
  • The proposed legislation will override the recently passed amendments to the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act which limit the ability of religious schools to preference staff on the basis of religious belief.
  • However, the proposed legislation will not override state or Commonwealth discrimination laws relating to sex, sexual orientation or other protected attributes as it deals with religious discrimination only.

Submission to the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights 

Catholic Education’s submission to the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights is focused on those sections in the Religious Discrimination Bill 2021 and related bills that are related to schools and school systems, specifically:

  • Part 2 – Conduct etc. that is not discrimination
  • Clause 11 – Conduct in relation to employment by religious educational institutions—overriding certain State and Territory laws
  • Part 3 – Concept of discrimination on the ground of religious belief or activity

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) has also made a submission to the Committee and should be read concurrently with Catholic Education's submission. 

A copy of the NCEC's submission to the Joint Parliamentary Committee Inquiry is available on the NCEC website. A copy of the ACBC's submission and other submissions to the Inquiry will be available via the Committee website.

Submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee

The NCEC also made a submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, which is available on this website and the Senate Committee website


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