When Freedom of Religion becomes Bullying

This article was originally published here at Online Opinion.

In polite company, I tend to avoid discussing politics or religion, and whilst writing around educational matters, often requires me to comment on the former, I’ve managed to steer clear of the latter. Until now.

In response to the federal government announcement that it intends to consolidate the five separate human rights policies into a single Act, Christian Schools Australia (CSA) argue that they must be able to retain the right to discriminate against Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual or Transgender (GLBT) teachers, or those heterosexual teachers who live with a partner out of wedlock.

To date, the government has granted exemptions for religious schools to discriminate on the basis of religion, sexual orientation and marital status with respect to staff and students. With the government’s announcement, the CSA are worried that its schools stand to lose that right.

The group’s chief executive officer, Stephen O’Doherty, said exemptions relating to sexual orientation and gender identity should remain in place. “We currently have the ability to employ people who have Christian beliefs and whose lifestyles are consistent with those beliefs.”

He goes on, “We are seeking exemptions to be able to employ staff who are Christian and hold certain beliefs. For instance, many Christians believe that being an active homosexual or living with a partner out of wedlock is not part of the Christian faith.”

All this from an association that claims on its website to, “[serve] the diverse needs of a large network of member schools.” (My italics.)

Presumably then, schools in the CSA do not hire women, as Timothy 2:11 states:

“I permit no woman to teach or have authority over men; she is to keep silent.”

Or do they pick and choose which Christian beliefs best suit their argument?

I’m not a scholar of religion. I am not anti-Christian, or anti any belief system.

I’m in favour of people having the right to worship who, what, when or how they like. So long as that in doing so, it does not impinge on anyone else’s rights or wellbeing.

In what is reportedly the first systematic review and analysis of suicidality and depressive symptoms in sexual minority youth, Dr Michael Marshal PhD from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in Pennsylvania conducted an analysis of nineteen studies that included a total of 122,995 participants.

He says, “gay and lesbian individuals experience much more violence, discrimination, and victimization than heterosexual teenagers, which in turn leads to increased stress and feelings of helplessness and hopelessness that can develop into depression and [suicide].” He also argues that gay teens are socially marginalized and ostracized from mainstream social groups and, as a result, they gravitate to “fringe” social groups, where there tends to be more risky behaviour, including drug and alcohol use.

In short, GLBT teens are three times more likely to report a history of suicidality and more than twice as likely to report symptoms of depression than their heterosexual counterparts

And what is the Christian response?

That it’s okay to discriminate against GLBT kids and adults?

And if you’re GLBT, you have no place in our schools or community?

The schoolyard bully takes on an entirely more dangerous form in this instance.

In March of this year, the federal government launched, with great fanfare the Bullying. No Way! website. But should the federal government continue to grant exemptions to these schools then it will be complicit in the institutionalized bullying of GLBT children and adults across Australia.

For this to occur in the name of God is one thing, but surely it can’t be allowed happen in the name of education?

Support is available at all times by calling Lifeline on 131 114, Mensline on 1300 789 978, and Kids Helpline 1800 551 800

12 Comments on “When Freedom of Religion becomes Bullying

  1. I understood that anyone who chooses to attend a school, where that school choice is of their own making, accepts that terms of that school? This is what separates public domains from private. When I enter your home, I do so on your terms – and you can turf me out when I cross certain boundaries. Why would a private school, which is a parent’s explicit choice, rather than zone based assignment, not be allowed to draw their own boundaries? Personally, I would not send my child there as I completely reject these GLBT values and beliefs – as I actively demand equal rights for every individual, including the GLBT community. But if I did enrol my child in that school, it is a bit ludicrous for me to then object to what I signed up for. To me, this article suggest the form of bullying you impose on these Christian schools. You appear to demand that your belief and value system ought to be imposed upon others, and that there is no validity to other systems to which you object or reject. What makes yours superior? To paraphrase you: “it’s okay to discriminate against Christian kids and adults?”. “if you’re Christian, you [or your beliefs] have no place in our schools or community?” How is your argument different? Why is it better?

    • Hi Brett,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. You’re absolutely correct of course, regarding a how ludicrous it would be for a parent to object to the CSA’s stance and still send their kids to one of their schools.

      However, my argument is that all too often kids don’t have any real say in what school they go to. I can’t imagine how tough it would be for a GLBT kid in one of these schools. How then, when dealing with all the social and emotional issues that come with being GLBT, would they have the conversation with their parents about why they didn’t want to go to a school that actively discriminated against them – The impact on their sense of self and wellbeing would be significant.

      In all areas of life (not just religion), we often equate parents’ values and beliefs with those of the kids. All too often we equate what parents’ want for their kids with what kids want for themselves.

      And all too often the disconnect between the two is at the root of many kids’ mental health issues.

      Thanks again for joining the debate, I appreciate it, and welcome further feedback.
      All the best!
      Dan

  2. At risk of sounding like Sir Humphrey Appleby, that is one very ‘brave’ post! I usually keep quiet about this topic (despite having strong views, loosely held, and which change with the evidence) but your key point is compelling: this type of religious “freedom” clearly leads to depression, suicides and anxiety in our students. As such, surely it is yet another form of child-abuse?

    • Thanks Greg.
      I certainly thought long and hard before posting this, well aware of the controversial area I was stepping into.
      Not a decision I took lightly.
      Thanks again.
      Dan

  3. Brett Rief, you have articulated exactly what I was thinking as I read this post. And to the author, Dan H, why do you only write about Christian schools? I’m pretty sure Muslim schools would also share these views as homosexuality and out-of-wedlock sexual relationships are equally (if not more) abhorred in the Quran than in the Holy Bible. And if a Christian school having the right to employ only people who adhere to the Christian faith is unaccetable to you and is considered, as Greg Donoghue puts forward in his comment, tantamount to ‘child abuse’, wouldn’t you agree that other kinds of discrimination and exclusion which happen quite freely in our schools is also abuse? I think of the times my 5 year old daughter was in tears because her best friend at school was allowed to attend a special outing and she was not. Why was my daughter excluded? Simply because she was not aboriginal. How is this kind of ‘reverse discrimination’ going to lead to reconciliation? And how is telling one religious group they cannot teach to their religious standards ever going to be compatible with your idea of ‘religious freedom’?

    • Thanks for your comment. You make some great points… Let’s be clear, I’m not keen on ANY kind of discrimination… and with regard to your comment about Muslim schools, you may well be correct, but I haven’t heard their CEO in the national press stating their views. When I do I’ll drop them a line too!

      My post is not about religious freedom or otherwise, it is about looking out for our kids.

      My reply to Brett illustrates this further.

      I really appreciate you taking the time to comment, and welcome further feedback, because you raise some interesting points about reverse discrimination.

      Cheers
      Dan

  4. When you as a self-proclaimed academic quote things like:

    Presumably then, schools in the CSA do not hire women, as Timothy 2:11 states:

    “I permit no woman to teach or have authority over men; she is to keep silent.”

    Then you are like so many others, taking one verse out of the bible and trying to make it say something that suits your argument – out of context and totally misused . . .

    The bible talks about teaching scripture and deals with the adult male/female relationship.
    Some more liberal churches however do not adhere to this biblical truth sadly.

    You state that you are not anti-Christian but you in the same article want Christians to abandon their beliefs and match up with your stated values – again you are inconsistent.

    Scripture will not change just because the society sinks deeper into a quagmire of sin as the years pass. The Scripture you so dislike have been around since before the philosphers and will still be valid on the last and dreadful day of judgement.

    If you want to make comments on a subject, I recommend that you first study the subject otherwise you will miss the point of the issue again and again.

    May our Lord give you insight and understanding my his Holy Spirit by his Grace.

    • Carl,

      Thanks for stopping by.

      I’m not sure what you’ve read, but I certainly do not proclaim to be an academic. That would be an insult to academics worldwide!

      However, I certainly cite the work of academics, as I do in this post, and I choose to use this research to inform my opinions and professional practice.

      Thanks again for taking the time to comment. I appreciate it.

      Dan

  5. Just wondering Dan, do you know if there’s any possibility of religious schools losing government funding if they refuse to abide by any new legislation or policy? It doesn’t seem at all fair or proper that some schools who receive government support must accept anyone and everyone and some are allowed to discriminate on whatever basis they see fit. Great post!

    • Hi Lucy,
      The area of funding will continue to be a pretty vexed and controversial area.
      To answer your question, no I don’t know.
      It will be interesting to see how things pan out.
      Thanks for stopping by! I appreciate it.

      Dan

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