Written on the 16 October 2018 by Kevin Conolly

Member for Riverstone Kevin Conolly has backed Catholic, Christian, Jewish, Muslim and other faith-based schools in their stance on employing teachers who share their faith and values.

"The first and foremost educators of children are their parents," said Mr Conolly. "The parents' right to decide how a child is educated is a human right, not a concession from the state."

"States run schools with the consent of parents, and with the involvement of parents, but are not free to supplant the will of parents."

One of the most fundamental human rights agreements underpinning internationally recognised human rights is the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Like almost all countries in the world, Australia is a signatory.

Article 18 of the Covenant reads:


1. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.

2. No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.

3. Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.

4. The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.

Point 4 makes clear that governments must "have respect for the liberty of parents to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions."

If parents are going to be able to "ensure" the education that their children receive conforms with their own convictions they must have the opportunity to choose schools with teachers who will espouse those same convictions.

This right is not an "optional extra" it is a fundamental human right.

Respecting parents' rights in this way does not infringe the basic rights of anyone else. No applicant for a job has a "right" to employment in a role which they are unwilling or unable to fulfil.

Applicants do have the right to have their suitability for a position assessed fairly based on criteria which are relevant to the position. As a teacher's capacity and willingness to actively participate in the faith-based education provided by a religious school is a relevant criterion, considering this factor in employment decisions is not unfair discrimination.

Any legislation arising from the Religious Freedom Review chaired by Phillip Ruddock should recognise this reality.

Legislation should provide clarity that faith-based schools may adopt the policy of employing teachers willing and able to impart the faith and values of the school community.

Such clarification should not be expressed as "exemptions" from anti-discrimination laws but recognition that such a policy is fair conduct, falling outside the definition of discrimination in the first place.

Author: Kevin Conolly


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