The Heart of the Matter
Written by: Mrs Jann Robinson, Principal
First published to the School Community, 19 October, 2018
At St Luke's, it is our aim to continue to be an inclusive Community, that is welcoming of all students and staff and that is supportive of all those in our Community. The School is known for its pastoral care program, which at the core, is based on the Christian message of honouring and respecting all people. It is our hope that all of those in the St Luke's Community continue to feel accepted, valued and included.
We live in an age of outrage culture where people go onto social media to take umbrage at anything with which they disagree. The use of social media to influence public opinion and to bring pressure to bear on governments is a significant shift in public discourse. This has also been seen in the response to the leaked information from the Ruddock Review into Religious Freedom. We have seen statements such as “religious schools expelling gay students” given as indisputable fact and the Government moving to change current exemptions under the Anti-Discrimination Laws. Please read on before you decide I am seeking to justify an unjustifiable position.
I was asked to speak to the Ruddock Review Panel, along with three other Principals of faith-based schools, and with the three CEO’s of The Anglican Schools Corporation, the Baptist Schools and the Lutheran Schools. All of the Principals spoke about their open enrolment policies, the pastoral care given to each and every student and their total commitment to the safety and well-being of all students. None of us would countenance the expulsion of students because of their gender identity. One of the Principals spoke about the support their school community had given to a student who was transitioning. It has been deeply offensive to all of us to be labelled as people and schools that expel gay students or exclude gay students. However, despite the reality of what actually does not happen in our schools, the media continues to take this line and no amount of evidence to the contrary is considered. The other area of focus was on employment. Again, all of us spoke about seeking to employ people who are aligned to our vision and mission. This at times will see people employed who actively support the ethos of the school, but it will also see us employing people who are sympathetic and happy to uphold the vision and mission.
At the heart of the debate is that there are people who would like to see all of the current exemptions that exist under the Anti-Discrimination Laws abolished. However, as there is currently no separate Freedom of Religion legislation in place (other than what is contained in the Anti-Discrimination exemptions), the position of faith-based schools is that there is a need to keep the Anti-Discrimination exemptions for now, not because they want to be able to exclude or expel, but rather so that the exemption that allows faith-based organisations to continue to be free from prosecution if they choose to employ a person of faith above a person who does not profess faith, remains. It was why when we were speaking with the Panel we asked them to consider a Freedom of Religion model rather than the existing exemption model. Whenever an exemption is given, by its nature, it looks like discrimination and this always carries a negative connotation. Therefore, what the schools are seeking, by their preference of a Freedom of Religion model, is the ability to speak into their communities about their faith position and to be able to continue to have religious education as a given.