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When freedom of religion becomes bullying

By Dan Haesler - posted Thursday, 3 May 2012


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.

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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?

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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?

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About the Author

Dan Haesler is a teacher, writer and speaker and blogs at danhaesler.com. He is the 2010 recipient of the NSW Premier's Anika Foundation Teachers Scholarship to address and raise awareness of youth depression.

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