Why Do We Fund Religious Schools That Discriminate Against Vulnerable Kids?

Not one cent of public money should go to schools that discriminate.

Religious freedom

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Did I wake up this morning in the 1950s?

We’ve found out that the federal government’s “review into religious freedom” will recommend that religious schools’ ability to legally discriminate against LGBTIQ students and teachers in Federal law be entrenched and expanded. I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised given the incredible and unethical influence the big religious lobby groups have over both the major parties.

Under the proposed changes, asked for by groups like Christian Schools Australia, Federal discrimination laws would be amended to cement the right of religious schools to expel students and fire teachers if they decide they don’t want an LGBTIQ person at their school.

I’m sorry, but that isn’t religious freedom. That is bigotry, plain and simple. And the idea that religious schools can do this with billions of dollars in public funding is utterly offensive.

We have to seriously ask why we would give a single cent of public money to any school that discriminates against their students and staff on the basis of sexuality?

I’m pretty damn sure we should not. We are a society committed to equality and acceptance. No school should be allowed to discriminate, and any school or organisation that chooses to accept public funding, must also accept the secular values that come with it. These views are horrifically out of step with community values, let alone basic bloody decency.

It’s Not Religious Freedom, It’s Discrimination

We know the consequences of this kind of legal discrimination are horrific because many Australian states and other countries already let it happen.

Young people in all schools are receiving the very public message that they are not accepted. LGBTIQ students in religious schools will be singled out and particularly harmed. Many will feel they have to live their teenage years in silence and hide their identity for fear of being expelled.

The Ruddock review claims there will be “appropriate safeguards for the rights and mental health of the child”. But let’s make no mistake about this: no “appropriate safeguards” can be attached to the fundamentally discriminatory message that legalised discrimination would send to students and teachers that they are lesser than their peers. The very existence of a right to discriminate is certainly enough to harm the students’ mental health and sense of belonging in a society that is already hostile to young LGBTIQ people.

For teachers, laws that allow discrimination mean they are forced to live double lives and constantly worry about the risk of losing their job it they are outed. Look no further than the story of Western Australian relief teacher, Craig Campbell, who was fired last year after the Baptist school he was teaching at found out he was gay. State laws made that perfectly legal.

And around the world the picture is similarly horrifying. Earlier this year a primary school teacher in the US was fired after daring to post wedding pictures with her wife online.

And all of this is happening because time and again the government has capitulated to the interests of private and religious schools, handing them enormous amounts of public funding and entertaining their wishes to discriminate.

Our schools should be places where social inequality is undone, where all students are accepted and staff are able to teach as themselves and instill an appreciation for all people in their students.

It’s incredibly saddening that in 2018 we are still defending the most basic rights to non-discrimination instead of focussing on how we include desperately needed acceptance and celebration of diversity in the curriculum of all schools in Australia.

We must fight this backwards push with all our might and stand with LGBTIQ students and teachers to remove all existing exemptions that allow religious schools to discriminate. Not one cent of public money should go to schools who do.

Senator Mehreen Faruqi is the Greens’ spokesperson for education. Follow her @MehreenFaruqi.