NSW faith-based schools in firing line

New South Wales could be the latest state to remove protections from faith-based schools, if the latest inquiry into its anti-discrimination laws follows the approach taken in other jurisdictions around Australia.

The Law Reform Commission has announced a of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977, and is calling for preliminary submissions by September 29, 2023.

This is potentially concerning for the religious freedom rights for faith-based institutions in Australia’s most populous state.

The major concern is that current protections for faith-based schools will be weakened.

Currently private schools in NSW are able to employ Christian staff who support their ethos, and can require staff and students to uphold Christian ethical standards including Christian sexual ethics.

The current protections give effect to important rights contained in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Australia is a signatory. The ICCPR recognises religious freedom and the right of parents to educate their children in accordance with their values and beliefs as fundamental human rights.

The terms of reference for the inquiry are broad and appear identical to those of other jurisdictions who have reviewed their anti-discrimination laws – severely narrowing and limiting religious freedom protections in favour of strengthening other non-discrimination protections, particularly for those identifying as LGBT.

For example, the inquiry will consider “whether the Act could be modernised and simplified to better promote the equal enjoyment of rights and reflect contemporary community standards”, and “whether existing tests for discrimination are clear, inclusive and reflect modern understandings of discrimination”.

Coupled with possible changes at a federal level following recommendations from the Australian Law Reform Commission, the future prospects for Christian schools in NSW are not promising.

HRLA will be preparing a submission to the inquiry and we urge everyone who is concerned about the possible ramifications of these changes to the law to make your views known.

You can make a submission here.

It is important that the New South Wales State Parliament hears from as many concerned people as possible.