By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp
On Tuesday, Archbishop Peter Comensoli of Melbourne, the spokesperson for the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference on religious freedom, responded to an announcement by the Shadow Attorney General of the introduction of a bill by the Opposition. The bill seeks to repeal exemptions in place in the Sex Discrimination Act.
The exemption is not used by Catholic schools to discriminate against students or to expel students based on “sexual orientation or gender identity”, the Archbishop said. Rather, “these exemptions are important to us because schools want to maintain the capacity to teach a Christian understanding of sexual ethics and marriage according to our faith tradition. Our right to continue to teach Catholic beliefs is threatened by proposals to repeal existing faith-based exemptions for religious schools and institutions”.
Furthermore, having the exemption in place protects the Church against claims that its beliefs are discriminatory. “We need to have the assurance that we can pursue our religious mission without legal risk”, Archbishop Comensoli said.
Archbishop Comensoli further proposed that “the law recognise religious freedom in a positive way”. This would allow religious schools to continue to educate based on religious principles while leaving the exemptions in place since “they have the benefit of established acceptance and meaning in law”, he said.
Finally, the Archbishop said that attempts to repeal these protections should be rejected by Parliament, “particularly without establishing other positive protections in place to allow religious schools to continue to operate according to their faith”.