The media, LGBTQ+ activists and representatives of the Queensland and Federal governments have taken issue with a submission made by the Presbyterian Church of Australia (“PCA”) to the Australian Law Reform Commission’s Inquiry into Religious Educational Institutes and Anti-Discrimination Laws.
In the submission, the PCA responds to a hypothetical example in the ALRC’s consultation paper of an LGBTQ+ student being elected school captain by stating that students in active same-sex relationships or in a sexually active unmarried heterosexual relationship would not “be able to give appropriate Christian leadership in a Christian school which requires modelling Christian living”.
The PCA argues that a school should have the right to select student leaders in line with their Christian ethos. That triggered an avalanche of criticism from government officials claiming this basic principle of religious freedom was anathema to Australian society.
Queensland Youth Affairs Minister Meaghan Scanlon said the PCA’s views “had no place in modern Queensland, and sent a message of ‘hate and division’”.
Queensland Education Minister Grace Grace said she did not believe it was right that students were denied leadership opportunities for the reasons given in the PCA’s submission.
“Being involved in leadership opportunities is a key part of school life”, Ms Grace said.
A spokesperson for federal Education Minister Jason Clare said “no child should ever be discriminated against”.
Activists also singled out the PCA’s submission. Matilda Alexander from the Queensland LGBTI+ Legal Service said the church’s submission was ”dangerous” and “breaches human rights”.
The PCA submission, along with those of numerous other churches and Christian organisations, urges the ALRC to reconsider its proposals and to “recommend a legal framework that will allow religious schools to operate as communities of faith that can express their religious commitments holistically, thus enabling the genuine formation of students”.
The attacks directed at the PCA by opponents demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding and incomprehension of the purpose and importance of religious freedom. The church has affirmed the importance of religious freedom rights, parental rights and the right of an organisation to operate its schools in accordance with its Christian ethos and biblical teaching. These are far from hateful or divisive statements.
These attacks are unfair and unwarranted. In their comments, the PCA applied the same standard to both all students, which is to uphold the Christian teaching in the example of their lives. The school wants to have its student leaders (and teachers and staff) model Christian living to the other students. This is not a controversial stance for a Christian organisation to hold.
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