Equal Opportunity Legislation

Equal Opportunity Legislation

Thursday, 18 September 2014  | Gerry - Adminstration Manager
The State election is only a couple of months away; it’s time to start thinking through the important issues. Some of you may remember that back in 2010 the Victorian Labor Government passed a new Equal Opportunity Act. That Act would have placed more restrictive guidelines around the freedom of Christian schools to employ Christian staff. As it turned out, the parts of the legislation that were unhelpful to us were rescinded by the incoming Coalition government, so they are not part of the law right now.

The intended laws would have meant that schools like MECS would have to prove there was an ‘inherent requirement’ of faith for their employment. That definition was very tricky because the arbitrator of this matter, the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC), would most likely understand that faith has nothing to do with so-called ‘secular’ school subjects. For Christian schools which seek to teach everything out of a Christian perspective and where children are educated in a holistic Christian community, dualistic (sacred-secular) definitions don’t work.

What is the law right now? In a nutshell, the Equal Opportunity Act has various exemptions that allow discrimination. Some of those allow Christian schools to discriminate in the matter of employment. To illustrate, if two equally competent teachers applied for a job here, one a Christian and one a non-Christian, we are permitted to choose the Christian – we can discriminate against the non-Christian.

Secularists will argue that this discrimination cannot be justified, and that people who do so are nasty and bigoted. We can reject this criticism because the exemptions in the Act are needed to balance the tension between the right to religious freedom and the right to equal opportunity in employment. Historically in the development of human rights throughout the world, it is fair to say that the right to religious freedom has always trumped right to employment opportunity. Secularists are now seeking to reverse this priority. Ironically the matter of human rights is grounded in the Bible. The Indian Christian theologian-philosopher, Vishal Mangalwadi (The Book that Made Your World: How the Bible created the Soul of Western Civilization – an excellent read by the way), reminds us of the great influence the Bible has had on the development of democratic freedoms.

This issue has now re-emerged as the State ALP has adopted the same policy position in preparation for the upcoming election; though this time they are calling the notion ‘bona fide occupational requirements’. Even though the ALP position is fixed until the election, Christian school leaders are in consultation with the ALP seeking clarification around the implications for employment within Christian schools. We will keep parents informed of developments. Should we need to be more vigilant in order to protect this important religious freedom, we’ll be asking for support in lobbying candidates on their position.

To wrap up this editorial I want you to get a sense of the imbalance that faces us. The Act also has exemption that allows discrimination based on political belief or activity (Exemption 27). The exemption makes good sense. In essence it means that a person who is, say a Liberal party member can be told that because of that they can’t get a job as a receptionist in a Labor party office. What astounds me is that if the Act is changed as the ALP want, the Act will provide greater rights to political belief than it does to religious freedom. Surely the latter is more important?

What can you do? Go online and get a copy of the ALP policy platform document and then write to your local ALP candidate that you are not happy about the introduction of the ‘bona fide occupational’ requirements that they want to introduce into the Equal opportunity Act. 

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