Stripping Christian schools of purpose: has the government counted the cost?

John Steenhof

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John Steenhof

15 February 2023

4:30 AM

Many Christian schools in Australia are in dire trouble, from the very source – the Australian government – whose job it is to secure legislative protection for them. In mid-2021, the Albanese government directed the Australian Law Reform Commission to provide advice on how to remove protections in federal laws that allow Christian schools to operate according to their faith without fear of discrimination claims. The impetus for such changes is the incessant campaigning of anti-religious activists reciting ‘gay kids should not be expelled or disadvantaged in religious schools’ even though no example of a single mistreated vulnerable child could be found.

The ALRC has recently released a Consultation Paper which will make hostile activists think all their Christmases have come at once. It contains proposals that, if implemented, would rob many Christian schools of their very purpose, and inevitably lead to closures. It is unclear if the government has counted the cost of absorbing unmanageable numbers of students into public sector schooling in every state and territory if they are legislated out of existence.

One of the strangest paradoxes of Christian schooling is that it is supported by strong and sustained demand among average Australians (many of them non-Christian) but also attracts stringent hostility from cultural voices promoting a narrow anti-Christian agenda. Everything is about to change, for the worse. The long-established freedoms which have allowed Christian schools to flourish and contribute so positively to Australian education over the years, are on the chopping block.

At least that would be the result of implementing the Australian Law Reform Commission’s latest recommendations on religious educational institutions and anti-discrimination laws.

The outcome of this review will be nothing short of catastrophic for these schools, which prioritise the Christian faith in their ethos and operations, and to that end are staffed by those who share and are firmly committed to that mission. Parents choose these schools for that very reason.

The ALRC would have us believe that these schools engage in harmful discrimination, to such an unjustified degree that it has to be stopped – in the interests of protecting both students and staff.

This is not supported by any credible data. The positive experiences of parents, children, and staff in these schools tell an entirely different story. Rolls are increasing. Parents report satisfaction and approval. Parents regularly give Christian schools high safety rankings for providing a nurturing and safe environment for students.

The reason Christian schools of this particular hue attract such opposition is that they do not automatically keep lockstep with the mainstream fashionable ideology. That is hardly surprising, as Western culture increasingly adopts the accoutrements of Wokeness. Christian schools stand out in a world in which everyone seems to be succumbing to ever-changing standards, understandably out of support for persuasive messaging that it is tolerant and inclusive to do so. If some Christians do not subscribe to Woke ideology because it is antithetical to their beliefs, that does not make them intolerant or bigoted. It is a non sequitur to suggest it does.

Christian schools are in the cross-hairs merely because they offer an oasis, in a world in which Australian parents, particularly Christian ones, are increasingly disconcerted by events.

So if Christian schools have a point, i.e. they exist for a particular purpose, to serve their own community and many besides, why should they not take down the shingle in the face of these proposed changes? Nothing remains of their raison d’être. Why indeed? From the perspective of a Christian school that is conscientious about its faith, there may be no point continuing.

Firstly, the ALRC envisages that preference when recruiting staff will be confined to nominal issues that are meaningless to the school’s mission. Instead of promoting the Christian faith through the lived example of staff, these Christian schools will be forced to admit those with no such calling at all.

Secondly, Christian schools will increasingly be forced to ‘channel’ new models of sexuality in the school, incompatible with their foundational beliefs. They would have to become agents of the latest trends in the sexual revolution. The very thing that Australian parents have clearly said they don’t want.

Thirdly, the duties of care schools owe staff and students are to be reconfigured in accordance with those trends, as may be predicted from the ALRC’s recommendations, and applied at a low threshold. Schools will face hair-trigger liability. Schools and their respective board members would become helpless targets at the end of an activist’s shooting gallery.

It boils down to this. Many Christian schools would simply have no reason to remain in business. The only ones to thank the government would be the activists who wanted these outcomes, rather than the broader Australian public, and certainly not state and territory governments which will have an immense but avoidable problem dumped on them. All in the name of tolerance and inclusivity.

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Published by Nelle

I am interested in writing short stories for my pleasure and my family's but although I have published four family books I will not go down that path again but still want what I write out there so I will see how this goes

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