Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge has urged lawmakers to support a broad, holistic re-examination of religious freedom, rather than a narrow focus on the treatment of students in schools. Source: The Catholic Leader.
Archbishop Coleridge raised the hot-button issue last week as he led a five-member Church delegation presenting evidence to a parliamentary committee examining Labor Senator Penny Wong’s private member’s bill dealing with religious schools and their capacity to “discriminate” against students on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.
“Our preference would be very strongly to set this particular issue about the treatment of students in schools within the much larger context … the broadest of which is the renegotiation of the relationship between religion and the state,” the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference president told the committee in Brisbane on February 6.
“That’s a massive phenomenon that’s unfolding in this culture at this time and we don’t want to turn our back on it or put our head in the sand – we’re part of it.
“Our preference would be very strongly to set this particular issue about the treatment of students in schools within the much larger context which helps us to understand the implications of any decisions which we or the parliament may make.”
Archbishop Coleridge said Catholic schools did not use existing exemptions in the Sex Discrimination Act to expel or otherwise discriminate against students simply on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.
He conceded that existing exemptions were important because “schools want to maintain the capacity to operate and teach based on a Christian understanding of life and of the human person as part of a broad education in the Catholic faith, which we regard as an initiation into what it means to be fully human”.
“Suggestions that they do – at times driven more by ideology than the facts – have misrepresented and undermined the work of Catholic schools and caused needless anxiety in the community,” he told senators.
Archbishop Coleridge said exemptions ensured that religious freedom was not compromised.
“Yet this system of exemptions gives the wrong impression that religious freedom is a negative, lesser right, rather than a positive, fundamental right,” he said.
“It is piecemeal … but if there is not something better we would prefer the existing exemptions to remain in force.”