The Australian state of Victoria has proposed changes to its Equal Opportunity Act that would remove some religious exceptions in regard to employment—and Christian schools are in the crosshairs.
Currently, religious schools have the freedom to require that employees comply with the schools’ beliefs regarding marriage or sexual orientation. The proposed changes would do away with that freedom.
According to a downloadable fact sheet published by the state government, “Religious schools will not be able to refuse to hire someone due to that person’s sexual orientation or marital status. Religious schools will only be able to refuse to hire someone in certain roles if that person’s religious beliefs are different to those of the school.”
A statement on the government’s website further explains: “The government wants to change the law so when employing staff, religious bodies and schools can only discriminate where conformity with religious beliefs is an inherent requirement of the job. In addition, when running a school or providing services funded by the Victorian government, religious bodies will only be able to discriminate on the basis of a person’s religious belief (not on other personal characteristics).” The government defines “personal characteristics” as including sex, sexual orientation, sexual activity, marital status, parental status and gender identity.
“These proposals could fundamentally change the nature of Christian schools,” said Mark Spencer, director of public policy for Christian Schools Australia. “Why is the government trying to dictate to a Christian school who it can employ or in what role? The attorney general can choose all her staff on the basis of their political beliefs—why can’t Christian schools simply choose all their staff on their religious beliefs?”
Spencer added: “People of all faiths across Victoria need to be asking the government questions about what this means for them.”