Former Prime Minister John Howard demands religious freedom for schools

Former Prime Minister has intervened in the debate on religious freedom and the rights of religious schools to hire and fire staff based on their values and ethos, describing the pushback against schools being able to do so as ‘outrageous’.

“If you send your child to a Catholic school, you expect them to be educated in the ambience of the religion and I think it’s outrageous that that’s not accepted”.

Mr Howard’s comments were reported in the Australian newspaper:

“Mr Howard said it was critical schools were able to fire teachers if they acted in a way that contravened that school’s religion.

“It’s very simple. You have a perfect right, if you are running a Catholic school or an Anglican school, if you’ve got a teacher who is kicking against the fundamentals of the religion, you’ve got a perfect right to say, ‘Wish you well, God bless you, but get a job somewhere else’”.

Mr Howard’s comments were made following reports that Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is willing to work with the Greens to get draft religious freedom laws passed, despite an earlier commitment to obtain bipartisan support. Faith leaders have expressed alarm, given the Greens have “long been critical of allowing religious institutions any rights to discriminate against staff and students on the basis of faith”.

The government is yet to announce its position on the ALRC’s Report proposing to remove protections in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 that allow religious schools to select staff in accordance with the doctrines, tenets and beliefs of the school.

Catholic Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher welcomed the comments, saying Mr Howard was:

“...bringing clarity and common sense about a matter that should not be controversial. That this type of reasonableness is rare in contemporary political debates is regrettable … Religion and faith-based institutions have made an enormous contribution to the life of our country, whether it be in education, health, welfare, and general community cohesiveness”.

The right of religious schools to hire and fire staff in accordance with their beliefs is critical to protecting religious freedom rights, including the rights of parents to educate their children in accordance with their faith and beliefs.