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Christian Schools Fear Loss of Freedom After Australian Elections

values and beliefs

Christian Schools Australia (CSA) has made the “unprecedented” decision to distribute political flyers asking parents to vote in favor of religious freedom at this Saturday’s federal elections.

“We have certainly ramped it up a lot because this issue is so important to us,” Mark Spencer, CSA’s national executive officer, told SBS News.

About the Flyer

The CSA sent around 160,000 flyers to parents associated with 329 schools. The flyer mentions the political parties people can choose from when they vote, the two primary ones being the Labor Party, represented by Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, and the Liberal Party, represented by Prime Minister Scott Morrison. In the flyer, the CSA emphasized the importance of the choice people are faced with this weekend: “This election will be the most critical for religious freedom in living memory.”

While the handout does not exactly tell people which party to vote for, it comes about as close as it can to doing so when it says, “Labor has indicated that as part of their policy intention they will remove the ability for your school to employ staff who share and live out your values and beliefs.”

The flyer then quotes the Labor party stating that it will amend the Sex Discrimination act so that “religious schools” will not be able to discriminate against students and staff. The handout also says that “false claims of expulsions of same-sex attracted students” were used to justify legislation that would prevent Christian schools from teaching according to their beliefs and values.

Below the description of the Labor Party’s position, the flyer quotes the Liberal Party promising to protect Australian rights and freedoms, with the party noting that “this particularly applies to the right to freedom of religion and the rights of equality and non-discrimination.”

Cultural Debate

What religious freedom entails has been hotly debated in Australia recently in the wake of an Instagram post from rugby player Israel Folau. The post warns that various people, including “drunks,” “homosexuals,” “liars” and “atheists” will go to hell. Folau is Australia’s highest paid rugby player, but his career is now in jeopardy because he has been found in breach of contract as a result of that and other posts. An independent panel is currently reviewing what steps to take against him.

But Spencer says the CSA’s concern over religious freedom goes deeper than the controversy surrounding Folau. Should the voting not go as the CSA hopes, the fear is that Christian schools will no longer be able to hire staff who teach according to the schools’ values. “People are voting with their feet, and their wallets, to choose faith-based schooling every day,” said Spencer, as reported by The Age. “We are asking them to vote at the ballot box this Saturday in the same way.”

Australian elections are always held on a Saturday, and unlike many other countries, Australian voting is compulsory. People face a fine of $20 AUD if they refuse to vote, although there are no laws against people submitting a blank ballot. While the Labor Party is apparently ahead in the polls, Bloomberg reports it is still a close race as the parties tackle issues such as the economy, taxes and climate change.

But those topics are not nearly as important to the CSA as that of religious rights. As the flyer says, “Religious Freedoms are at the heart of our shared values and beliefs… Those values and beliefs, that freedom of religion, is ingrained in how we teach and how we learn. Those values and beliefs must be protected for our current students and for the future.”