Bishops outline dangers in proposed discrimination reforms

Archbishops Peter A Comensoli and Anthony Fisher OP

Senior bishops have warned law changes proposed by the Australian Law Reform Commission would prevent Church schools from being authentically Catholic, arguing they would discount the rights of people with a religious faith.

The fears were raised in the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference’s submission to the Law Reform Commission’s Inquiry into Religious Educational Institutions and Anti-Discrimination Laws.

The submission was signed by Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP and Archbishop Peter A Comensoli, the chairs of the Bishops Commission for Catholic Education and the Bishops Commission for Life, Family and Public Engagement, respectively.

The Law Reform Commission recently released a consultation paper proposing restrictions on the ability of religious educational institutions to hire staff who support the religious mission of the school.

“The propositions and proposals advanced in the consultation are problematic because they would make it impossible for religious educational institutions to pursue their religious mission and ethos,” the archbishops said.

“It is vital in forming a community of faith that religious educational institutions and, in particular, religious faith schools have the right to preference the hiring of staff who are of the same religious faith or who are willing to support the religious faith of the school.”

Archbishops Comensoli and Fisher argued that Catholic institutions “want the capacity to employ and manage employment so that staff can be witnesses for the schools’ Catholic mission”.

“Freedom of religious observance, as part of a balance that observes the rights of all, is a fundamental human right that government is obliged to protect,” they wrote.

“Catholic schools want to continue to be able to authentically teach the Catholic faith with staff who support this mission in word and deed. This faith-based education is a vital part of the identity and mission of Catholic schools and has served students and parents to generations of Australians.”

The archbishops said that the propositions in the discussion paper would “add no further protections than already exist in Australian schools” but would rather “remove the opportunity for parents and students who do wish to participate in the entirety of what Catholic schools can offer through their mission and ethos”.

A copy of the Bishops Conference submission can be found here:

The Law Reform Commission has been asked to provide a report to the Commonwealth Attorney-General by April 21.