With news that the reporting deadline for the Australian Law Reform Commission’s (ALRC) inquiry into religious discrimination laws has been extended to 31 December 2023 to allow it time to consider the more than 420 submissions and 40,000 survey responses it received, recent developments in the United Kingdom demonstrate how much is at stake in the ongoing conflict between religious freedom and parents’ rights and emerging LGBT ideology.
The Central London County Court recently dismissed a case brought by Christian couple Izzy and Shane Montague against Heavers Farm Primary School, their child's former school, for trying to force their 4-year-old to participate in an LGBT-themed Pride Parade.
The parents were informed of the parade only days before the event and felt intimidated when they challenged the school's LGBT education.
The school maintained that holding the parade was a legal requirement and even told one parent it was against the law for their child not to attend. On the day of the parade, 182 children enrolled in the school were withdrawn by their parents.
The parade was part of a wider celebration which included prominent flags, Stonewall posters, LGBT-themed t-shirts worn by staff, and an assignment requiring the children to create rainbow art.
The County Court nevertheless ruled that the event was part of a general program to promote equality and inclusivity, not a promotion of LGBT. It even went as far as to say that there was no conflict between the school pride event and the parents’ Christian beliefs (paras 145 and 160 of the judgment).
This is an extraordinary instance of a judge deciding what a family believes and what the church teaches.
During oral testimony, members of the school's leadership team testified that they believed Christian views about homosexual behavior and relationships were homophobic, with some of the school's internal emails referring to a group of parents opposing LGBT education as 'bigots.'
After requesting her son be withdrawn from the parade, Mrs. Montague was told that if her son did not attend, it would be seen as a behavioural issue. The Montagues felt they had no choice but to withdraw their son from the school and launch legal action.
The family, supported by the Christian Legal Centre, has announced that it will appeal the court’s decision.
These cases are becoming increasingly common. For example, parents at another London school have lodged a complaint after their son’s class was told they would be “dealt with severely” if they did not accept LGBT teaching.
These developments highlight the ongoing importance of religious freedom and parents’ rights to educate their children in accordance with their religious beliefs, as guaranteed by Article 18(4) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
To this end, the ALRC’s report will be critical for the ongoing future of religious freedom in Australia, particularly for Christian schools. It is hoped that the Commission will take seriously the concerns of the many people of faith who made a submission or participated in a survey, as well as Australia’s human rights obligations in international law, as it makes its deliberations.
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