Principals from 34 Anglican Schools in NSW, including Nowra Anglican College, have written an open letter to all members of federal parliament, urging them to protect exemptions in the Sex Discrimination Act that allow them to sack gay teachers.
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The letter, dated October 25, was signed by the heads of a number of schools including Shellharbour Anglican College, the Illawarra Grammar School and the Shoalhaven’s Nowra Anglican College, after the government’s recent decision to introduce a new Religious Discrimination Act to protect gay students.
The commitment to protect students followed backlash to leaked recommendations in former Liberal MP Philip Ruddock’s review into religious freedoms. The recommendation suggested schools may be able to discriminate against students based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or relationship status.
However, the Anglican principals who signed the letter argued there was no evidence to suggest this happens in Australian schools.
“This debate has been polemicised as the right to expel gay students, with little evidence this occurs, and the right to dismiss gay staff members, again with little evidence that this occurs,” the open letter read.
The letter went on to argue that faith-based schools should have the right to employ staff who support the ethos of the school.
“It is overly simplistic to state that a teacher merely delivers academic content in the classroom,” it read.
“Therefore, it is essential that teachers supports the values, ethos and mission of the school as much as he or she can.
“It is not appropriate, for example, for a teacher to undermine or denigrate the beliefs or teachings of the employing school.”
The principals’ letter said the legislation set out in the Sex Discrimination Act was all that protected the religious freedoms of faith-based schools.
“The current exemptions, however clumsy, in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 are really the only significant legal protections available to schools to maintain their ethos and values with regards to core issues of faith," the letter said.
"A more general positive right would be far better, but until such time as religious freedom is codified in legislation, the exemptions should remain."
In October, the government wanted to draft laws to stop discrimination against gay students as a matter of urgency, but both sides of parliament were unable to come to an agreement and the matter was deferred.
The matter of whether to end the exemptions for teachers is still up in the air, with the government saying prevention of discrimination against students was its priority.
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