The Growing Assault on Faith-Based Schools

The Australian Law Reform Commission’s recommendation to force faith-based schools to employ staff and enrol students whose way of life and beliefs contradict such schools’ religious beliefs represents an existential threat that must be opposed.

Religious freedom is one of the foundation stones of what Karl Popper described as an open and free society. Unlike a tribal way of life, an open society is characterised by “Humaneness and reasonableness, at equality and freedom”.

As argued by America’s founding fathers, such freedoms are Divine in origin.  The Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”.

What Christianity teaches is that as all are equal in the eyes of God, all deserve justice, freedom, and the right to go about their lives free of oppression.  As Saint Paul states, “ “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” Such is the redeeming and liberating power of Christianity. One of the first acts of totalitarian regimes is to destroy the churches, kill and imprison those of faith and burn the Bible.  In order for dictators to remain in power any commitment to a higher and more transcendent authority must be abolished.

It should not surprise the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci described “socialism as the religion to kill Christianity”.  It also would not have surprised Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who explained the horror and unspeakable barbarism of two world wars and the evils of fascism and communism in four short words, “Men have forgotten God”.

Central to religion’s survival and prosperity is the freedom of those of faith to worship, pray and live according to the morals and beliefs on which their religion is based. Such rights are guaranteed by international covenants and agreements.

As they are their children’s primary moral guardians even more critical is the right parents have to ensure their child’s education supports their religious beliefs.  The Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states governments need “to ensure the religious and moral education of … children (is) in conformity with [parents’] own convictions”. While government schools are allowed to teach about religion they are not permitted to proselytise and, as such, if parents want their children to be religious they must have the right to choose faith-based schools.

The woke nature of the secular curriculum, where climate change, identity politics and victimhood, plus neo-Marxist-inspired post-colonial and LGBTIQA+ ideologies are taught with religious fervour, reinforces the need for school choice. Add the fact Australian society is characterised by increasing rates of alcohol and drug abuse, anxiety, depression and self-harm, as well as family breakdown, and protecting religious schools from government interference is even more vital.

Research both here and overseas concludes faith-based schools are successful in promoting social cohesion and stability, volunteerism and a commitment to the common good as well as the need for social justice.

One of the arguments against allowing religious schools to control staffing and enrolments is that it’s wrong to discriminate. The prevailing woke orthodoxy argues such discrimination especially disadvantages non-binary staff and students. But if faith-based schools are to remain true to their purpose they must continue to have control over who they employ. As argued by the Australia’s Catholic Bishops, whoever is employed needs to agree not to compromise or “injure by word or action those religious and moral principles from which the agencies derive their foundation beliefs”.

It’s also important parents and students not seek to undermine or subvert the uniquely religious nature of such schools. There are secular government schools as an alternative.

Dr Kevin Donnelly is a senior fellow at the ACU’s PM Glynn Institute

14 thoughts on “The Growing Assault on Faith-Based Schools

  • Andrew Campbell says:

    The secularists argue, of course, that religious schools are heavily supported by the state, by their taxes, and so they are required to pay for schools that discriminate. They forget, of course, that religious people pay taxes, and some of that is used to pay for abortions and transgender operations, their ABC and programmes and grants for all kinds of woke activities. That’s our democracy. Minorities and everyone pays for things that the majority (perhaps) want but that the minority find highly offensive.

  • sonofscott says:

    From first hand observation I can tell you that the ALRC’s recommendation will not need enforcing at at least one school, and probably many more have already capitulated. This battle line is lost. Concerned parents have the choice of homeschooling or a nightly deindoctrination session for their children.

  • DougD says:

    Sec 14 of the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 says:
    (1) Every person has the right to freedom of thought,
    conscience, religion and belief, including—
    (a) …
    (b) the freedom to demonstrate that person’s
    religion or belief in worship, observance,
    practice and teaching, either individually or
    as part of a community, in public or in
    (2) A person must not be coerced or restrained in a
    way that limits that person’s freedom to have or
    adopt a religion or belief in worship, observance,
    practice or teaching.
    Does the recommendation of the HRC conflict with this law? Why aren’t the board members of an Islamic school entitled to insist that only Muslim teaches will be employed?

  • padmmdpat says:

    But hang on a moment. All this opposition and concern presumes there is something to protect in faith based schools. Is that generally the case? In my experience having taught in a Catholic school there wasn’t too much there that reflected a deep Catholic ethos. Most of the staff were nominal Catholics who never went to Mass. The pupils were virtually all ignorant of Catholic doctrine, liturgy and culture. ( “First Holy Communion? Is that the bread thing?” “Christmas? Oh yeah – that’s about family.” “Monks? They’re the dudes who wear orange aren’t they?)
    Every Monday morning I would ask my Year 11 pupils if they went to Mass that Sunday. Not one in the years I taught there. The very few staff members who were practising Catholics were all but three rabidly and aggressively ‘progressive ‘, and to disagree with them and state the faith of the church was to earn their emnity and know the meaning of the word dread. That they were to a man and a woman theologically illiterate, goes without saying. You get my drift.
    I think most Catholic schools should be closed down because they are not doing what they are meant to be doing. Besides, you may well find that a large part of the pupil body and there parents aren’t Catholic. Why the church is investing so many resources in something that is clearly broken, beats me. Cardinal Pell got it right. He recognised that the Catholic school system was not simply in hospital, but was in palliative care. That’s why he invested resources into university chaplaincy, his rationale being that having got away from the school culture, young Catholics being to seriously think about life were ripe for evangelisation. Hence the vibrant Catholic community at Sydney University.
    Oh, there is one school I wouldn’t close down. Mary McKillop College in Wagga Wagga. Google it. No mucking about or watering down their identity.
    As for the elite boys’ school where the teacher told the boys just about to go into the chapel to make their First Communion, “Remember guys, it’s only symbolic.” I wonder how much ‘the bread thing’ will effect sanctification in their lives.

    • Paul from Sydney says:

      I agree many Christian schools have already given up the ghost on these issues including even Sydney Anglican schools. Usually in the name of ‘caring’ but possibly out of fear of lost government funding or the revolt of (usually female) SJW students. Nonetheless as Roger Scruton told us, the freedom to form educational institutions without state control over thought and belief is the most fundamental element of a free society where realms of value can still be created. This is a big point of principle.

  • Paul W says:

    Catholic schools are not separate from the surrounding culture and consequently neither are the students. While I oppose the change, it won’t make much of a difference. A real parallel conservative, nationalist, religious culture needs to develop but that is going to be very difficult.
    As for sex only within marriage: good luck.

  • Searcher says:

    Schools should be free to employ or not employ anyone they like.

    • kh says:

      Church-going Christians are a small minority of our society but opposition to Christianity gives the deep left its identity in that it cannot establish any canon of its own and so must ever find its purpose in denouncing what Christians regard as virtuous. Think “Marxism is the slander of virtue” and you’ve just about nailed it. In the mindset of Captain Ahab, this radical left believes that with enough taxpayer’s money and legislation it can kill God so that humans can be free! It is a vain quest and a hollow freedom. The popularity of Christian faith has waxed and waned over the centuries, but the faith is not vulnerable to legislation: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Gal. 5:22-23) Churches that have maintained a loving fidelity to Christ and Scripture remain strong, even in the decadent West. We should certainly oppose such constraining laws but also not forget where the source of our strength lies.

  • Tricone says:

    Searcher – all employers should be free to employ or not employ anyone they like. But I guess that’s another battle for another day.

  • Michael Mundy says:

    Amusing to see that 5 years of religious conditioning prior to school attendance isn’t enough to ward off the fears of religious parents that their child will not be able to cope with societal diversity. Even more astounding that these same parents concede that their familial influence cannot match the influences of the secular schoolmates and teachers of their children. Worrying that these same parents see an institutionalised indoctrination as the only answer to the possibility that their child may develop independent thought.

    • Paul Govier says:

      I think that is slightly disingenuous. Your argument works in reverse too: If the benefits of a pluralist, liberal society are so self evident why does the State feel need to force children to be indoctrinated into it? But that’s not really the argument. The argument is about who’s right is it to choose what their children are taught: parents or the State?

      The reality is that schools exist to teach children. The idea that they develop independent thought absent teaching, culture and context is for Rousseau and the birds. The need to learn to think by operating in a framework that makes sense. The concern of parents of religious schools is that the child’s ability to learn to think independently will be compromised if they are taught things that a “wrong”. That it will set the wrong framework for learning because it is based on floored assumptions such as men can be women; the world originated from nothing; sex before marriage is fine so long as it is consented to by both parties. We can debate whether those principles are in fact right or wrong, but that’s not the point. The heart of the issue is whether parents should be able to choose what principles their children are taught or whether that is up to the State.

    • Paul W says:

      It’s about the values and ideas that underlie the independent thinking. They are not all equal. One of the points of education is to pass on what has already been learned by the community, and its experiences and culture. You can’t just teach kids to ‘think independently’ free from underlying affairs. That doesn’t make sense. Have you thought independently about thinking independently? Why do you think it is good? Tell me without regard to anyone else’s prior writing or experience. You can’t. All education revolves around community and usually continuity. Christian education is not perfect but it has enough merits worthy of preservation.

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