If, like most of us, you are under the impression that parents have a “right” to see their children educated within their own values system, you are mistaken. In practice today, mainstream religion, and all the values that it connotes, are being erased from our national education system.
Every child in Australia has the right to, and is guaranteed, a free education in a government-funded school. Of the 9,614 schools in Australia, 2,889 of them are non-government and independent.
Today, almost a third of schools exist because parents have declined the free and secular option, choosing instead to send their children to an independent institution that best suits their beliefs and aspirations. Many make a significant financial sacrifice to have their children receive this values-based education.
Whether it be for reasons of religious affiliation or the belief that privately operated schools deliver a superior education—a belief borne out by academic results—the commitment to a non-government educational setting is an expensive one.
Private school fees often run for tens of thousands of dollars per year. And it is clear many families are prepared to make that commitment—in 2021 enrolment in independent schools grew by 2.2 percent.
Many of these independent institutions are faith-based settings committed to teaching the tenets of their belief structure. When parents entrust their child to a faith-based school, they do so on the understanding that these tenets will be instilled in the child alongside the “three Rs.” This amounts to a values-based contract.
The success of this arrangement is reflected in the growing enrolments at these schools and the conspicuous success of their students relative to those attending government schools.
Yet, the fundamental right of association that underpins parents’ ability to make this choice for their children is being relentlessly attacked by activists and bureaucrats committed to dismantling values-based education.
Majority in Support
The findings of a 2021 survey by pollster John Utting revealed broad community support for faith-based schools in Australia.
Significantly, 63 percent of the general population believed religious schools should be “entitled to require employees to act in their roles that uphold the ethos and values of that faith, and the school should be free to favour hiring employees who share these values.”
So, despite the assertions of the activists, there is no popular demand for changes to existing arrangements.
Current anti-discrimination laws provide some exemptions for faith-based schools, allowing them to prioritise the employment of staff and enrolment of students in accordance with their ethos.
Now, however, the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) is considering changes to the laws which will remove or severely restrict the ability of values-based schools to act in accordance with their values.
The proposed changes to the Religious Educational Institutions and Anti-Discrimination legislation amount to a targeted attack on citizens of faith, on religious schools and on the right of Australians to freely associate.
Much like the failing national curriculum, the proposed changes aim to homogenise the private school environment with that of the government sector, which is experiencing a significant decline in enrolments.
Any such changes will also have the chilling effect of undermining our society’s rich multiculturalism and diversity.
Many organisations, including political parties and “pride” centres, have the right to employ staff who promote and adhere to their values and policies. These organisations enjoy the legal protection of the fundamental right to employ and associate with “like-minded people.”
Why Are Religious Schools Set to Be Stripped of This Right?
The answer, of course, is the simmering resentment of the Left, and in particular teachers’ unions, which have always despised the private schools’ tradition of excellence and the pride they take in trying to turn out not just well-educated young people but good, and often God-fearing, citizens.
While we should always be wary of the United Nations, fondness for overriding national sovereignty, it is worthwhile noting that Article 18 of the U.N.’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights guarantees “freedom of thought, conscience, and religion in teaching and recognises the liberty of parents to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.” Australia is a signatory to this covenant.
If we are truly committed to the buzzwords of our time, “inclusion and diversity,” the independence of religious schools must be acknowledged and protected.
To deny them the right to employ in accordance with their values while extending this right to political parties or a “pride” centre exposes the “progressive” element of our society for what it is—hypocritical, intolerant, and extremist.
This article was originally published in The Spectator Australia on or about 23 March 2023 and was written by the author in her capacity as a contributor for that publication. It has been republished on the IPA website with permission. The views expressed are those of the author alone.