Orange Anglican Grammar School has no intention of firing staff or expelling students because of their sexual orientation according to principal Reverend Louis Stringer.
Concerns were raised about acceptance of students and staff who identify as lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transexual, intersex and questioning [LGBTIQ], after Mr Stringer was confirmed to be one of 34 NSW Anglican school principals to sign a controversial open letter to federal MPs.
The letter called for religious exemptions to stay in place despite the federal government's decision to introduce a new Religious Discrimination Act to protect LGBTIQ students.
However, Mr Stringer said he signed the letter so the school could hire teachers who followed the Christian ethos, not to discriminate against students or staff based on their sexuality.
We are a caring school, we have students who identify as LGBTIQ and we exercise the same love and compassion for all of our students and all of our staff, their sexuality is not in question.Orange Anglican Grammar School principal Reverend Louis Stringer
“We are a caring school, we have students who identify as LGBTIQ and we exercise the same love and compassion for all of our students and all of our staff, their sexuality is not in question,” Mr Stringer said.
“This is not about expelling students who might be gay or sacking staff who might be LGBTIQ, it’s not about that.
“It’s never happened at this school and it’s not going to happen where we start asking people’s orientation.”
He said the school followed the Christian tradition, and he wanted to maintain the right to ask potential staff during the interview process about whether they would be willing to follow the Christian ethos.
“We have teachers who are active in their faith and teachers who are not as active in their faith, teachers who are Anglican, Baptist, [Orange Evangelical Church], Catholic, all different denominations,” Mr Stringer said.
“[The letter is] just to make sure that we be able to maintain the right to ask those questions, to be able to employ staff who share our vision.
“It’s really important for our community to be able to be able to continue to maintain our values as a faith-based school.”
The letter said there’s no effective protection under Australian law that guaranteed religious freedom for belief.
“This is strange given that it is enshrined in the United Nations' International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Australia has formally ratified.
“The current exemptions, however clumsy, in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 are really the only significant legal protections available to school to maintain their ethos and values with regards to core issues of faith.”
The open letter to all members of Parliament of Australia from heads of Anglican schools:
As Principals and Heads of Anglican Schools in Greater Sydney and the Illawarra we write this public letter to all members of Parliament of Australia.
There has been quite some discussion recently about the rights of faith-based schools and their current exemptions under federal anti-discrimination legislation. The debate has been polemicised as the right to expel gay students, with little evidence that this occurs, and the right to dismiss gay staff members, again with little evidence that this occurs.
By and large across faith-based schools, the issue at hand is the right to employ staff who support the ethos of the school. Some schools require evidence of an active faith that is consistent with the philosophy and ethos of the school. In other schools, there is a preference for employment of active adherents of the faith, but other staff, who may not personally identify with the faith, are still expected to support the overarching mission and ethos of the school. This is not inconsistent with the practice of most employers and their corporate goals, let alone political parties. It is overly simplistic to state that a teacher merely delvers academic content in the classroom. This ignores the powerful mentor and exemplar role all teachers play, and are expected to play, in the education of young people. Therefore, it is essential that a teacher supports the values, ethos and mission of the school as much as he or she can. It is not appropriate, for example, for a teacher to undermine or denigrate the beliefs and teachings of an employing school. This is a reasonable expectation not only of the employing school but also of many parents and families who have chosen the school for their children's education.
There is no effective protection under Australian law that guarantees religious freedom for both belief and action. This is strange given that it is enshrined in the United Nations' International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Australia has formally ratified. The current exemptions, however clumsy, in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 are really the only significant legal protections available to school to maintain their ethos and values with regards to core issues of faith. A more general positive right would be far better, but until such time as religious freedom is codified in legislation, the exemptions should remain.
Read the signatories of the heads of schools here.
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