RELIGIOUS LIBERTY WEEK 4
EDUCATION AND RELIGIOUS LIBERTY - CASE STUDIES
Should Christian Schools be Expected to Compromise their Christian Principles?
RELIGIOUS LIBERTY FOR CHRISTIAN SCHOOLS AND PARENTS
Educational institutions are an important part of community life. They make a huge contribution to the makeup of the next generation of citizens. Whether we are students, parents, educators or citizens who care about the next generation, we all have a vested interest in this.
Moreover, educational institutions are melting pots. The public system is meant to be open to people from all kinds of backgrounds with different systems of morality. Generally we have surface moral agreement, even if our moral foundations are different. E.g. We’re OK with schools teaching our children not to steal or bully, even if they don’t have the same moral foundation for why these are wrong (or any moral foundation at all!) But what happens when this superficial moral agreement breaks down? Moral disagreement has emerged mostly in the areas of sexuality and gender. Should schools teach a ‘secular’ view? Or is that an imposition of another religion posing as neutral (the religion of secularism)? Should Christian parents and students have the right to express alternative visions of human flourishing when it comes to these areas? Or should these controversial issues be kept out of school altogether and left to parents to teach at home?
And the controversy isn’t just in the public system. Presumably parents send their children to Christian schools because they are happy for their children to be taught Christian doctrine. But what happens when that doctrine contradicts the cultural orthodoxy (once again this disagreement emerges mostly in the areas of sex and gender)? Should the state prevent schools from hiring staff based on their Christian convictions? What if a student is agitating and protesting against Christian teaching? Is there any scope for discipline?
These are the kinds of issues we will be exploring this week.
Interview with Canadian Father, Steve Tourloukis
This interview details the process that a Greek Orthodox Canadian father had to go through to try and get his school to notify him when they would teach on controversial topics, especially around marriage, family and human sexuality.
Unfortunately Dr. Tourloukis ultimately lost his court case and the freedoms of Canadian parents continue to be trampled on. This interview is from 2012, but Canada is probably around 10 years ahead of Australia in this drift away from Christianity and cases like these are likely to start coming up in Australia. We think this interview shows a very reasonable response from a religious father to a difficult situation and we can learn from him. We are thankful to Radio Teopoli for allowing us to republish this interview.
Podcast duration: 38:28Speakers: Steven Tourloukis and Lou IacobelliPublisher: Radio Teopoli (used with permission)Originally published: hereDate accessed: 30/9/19
Neil Foster - Religious Freedom & Religious Schools
Neil Foster is an expert on religious liberty in Australian law. He spoke at the Anglican Education Commission’s Governor’s Symposium in late 2018 on the impact of the Ruddock Report on religious schools. This lecture considers topics such as:
- What the law says about the rights of students and teachers in religious schools.
- Australian precedents where religious liberty has come into conflict with sexual orientation non-discrimination law.
- Prof. Foster’s recommendations following the Ruddock Report so that schools can continue to operate according to their convictions.
Podcast duration: 41:28Speaker: Neil FosterPublisher: Anglican Education Commission (used with permission)Originally published: hereDate accessed: 7/10/19
You can subscribe to the Christians Engaging Culture podcast here.
THREE QUICK THINGS YOU CAN SAY
(On Christian schools having the right to recruit employees based on Christian teaching) - ‘Just as the Greens ought not to be required to employ a coal merchant, a Christian school ought not be required to employ an anti-Christian activist.’ - Frank Brennan
(On not wanting different versions of sexuality taught in public schools) - As a Chrisitian I believe God created sex for a husband and wife in the covenant of marriage. I understand that people have different moral frameworks and not everyone agrees with me. What I’m objecting to is the way someone else’s moral framework is being forced on my child at a public school. If I had decided to send my child to a Muslim school and they were teaching a Muslim view of sex and marriage, fair enough: that was my decision to send them there. But this is a public school that is meant to be open to people with different views. I would prefer if such areas of controversy were left to parents to discuss with their children at home.
(On Christian schools having the right to discipline students based on Christian teaching) - Think of a Jewish school that teaches Kosher food laws. If a student decided they wanted to eat pork at home, it makes sense that the school shouldn’t get involved. But if a student brought pork to school, shouldn’t the school be able to discipline them? If a student wanted to start a lunchtime ‘Pork Appreciation Society’, shouldn’t the school be free to refuse their request? If the student insisted on being an activist for eating pork in the playground, shouldn’t the school be able to discipline them? Why should it be different for a student becoming an activist against the teachings of other religious schools?
TWO WAYS TO TURN DISCUSSION TO THE GOSPEL
So much of this comes back to different moral frameworks. If you want to understand where I’m coming from, my moral framework comes from Jesus. Do you mind if we zoom out and I can give you the big picture of Christianity so maybe you can understand more about why I think Jesus is worth listening to?
I want the liberty to have Christian schools that teach according to the Bible and where Christian values are modelled by teachers because I think the most important thing for my child isn’t that they score a big ATAR or play sport at high levels, but that they know and trust in Jesus. Jesus is so important to me. Would you mind if I told you a bit about him?
CASE STUDIES - EVANGELISM AND RELIGIOUS LIBERTY
Christian Schools Dodged a Bullet, But What Next?
Stephen McAlpine sits on the board of a Christian school in Western Australia. He says Christian schools ‘dodged a bullet’ with the recent election of the Liberal party in federal parliament (the Labor party was committed to removing ‘the exemptions from discrimination against LGBTQI students and teachers’). Once again this highlights the need to frame this in terms of a positive right to religious liberty (rather than the negatively-framed ‘exemptions’). But McAlpine provides practical steps for Christian schools to ‘get their houses in order’ for the next wave of accusations of unfair discrimination.
Estimated read time: 12:05Author: Stephen McAlpinePublisher: stephenmcalpine.comDate accessed: 4/9/19
Christian Schools have dodged a bullet … for now … School Freedom
Iles recounts the content of a bill proposed by the Australian Labor Party, puportedly to prevent discrimination by faith-based schools against LGBT students. In fact the bill - now lapsed - would have infringed religious freedom and seen Christian schools threatened with litigation. Originally webcast in February 2019, Iles outlines an Australian Christian Lobby campaign, on the basis of 1 Timothy 2:1-4, for five religious freedoms - freedom of speech, of conscience, of association, freedom from discrimination on the grounds of religious faith, and parents’ rights to raise and train their children in accordance with their religious convictions.
Duration: 11:14Speaker: Martyn IlesPublisher: Australian Christian LobbyDate accessed: 23/9/19
If Only There were Someone Other than Izzy
McAlpine highlights the case of Felix Ngole, a UK social work student who was excluded from his Sheffield University course on the grounds that a statement he made about marriage rendered him unfit to practice social work. McAlpine describes him as an ‘everyman who could be us in any other situation’. Ngole’s case has been remitted for a new hearing after the Court of Appeal found against the university.
Estimated read time: 5:15Author: Stephen McAlpinePublisher: https://stephenmcalpine.comDate accessed: 15/9/19
The Parents Who Say that their Kids are Being Indoctrinated by UK Schools
This article is a must-read for parents and grandparents of faith who have children enrolled in public schools. While the case study is based in the UK, it provides insights into the views of people who are diametrically opposed as to whether or not LBGTI sexuality, family structures and gay marriage should be explicitly taught in public schools. Australia has a similar program called Safe Schools. This article deserves discussion and the development of a strategy among Christian parents with children in state schools. Understanding the perspectives of others with different perspectives is a good place to start this discussion.
A few discussion questions are provided in the Group or Personal Reflection Section.
Estimated read time: 14:00 Author: Becky JohnsonPublisher: Sky NewsDate accessed: 13/9/19
Canada’s Supreme Court Ruling Is a Grave Blow to Religious Freedom - and Not Only in Canada
On 15 June 2018 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that law school graduates of Trinity Western University (TWU) may be barred from legal practice because TWU upheld a traditional view of marriage. TWU faculty, staff and students sign a ‘community covenant’ that includes a statement that members of the community must ‘voluntarily abstain from the following actions … [including] sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.’
The court ruled that a decision by a gay person to attend Canada’s only committed Christian law school could be a necessity, whereas a Christian code of conduct is merely a preference and that the law school must conform to the views of those who may wish to attend. This ruling has significant implications for religious freedom.
Estimated read time: 4:00Author: Paul Marshall Publisher: Providence Institute on Religion and DemocracyDate accessed: 15/9/19
Trinity Western University Loses Before the Supreme Court of Canada
This article by Australian Neil Foster provides a useful analysis of the Supreme Court ruling against Trinity Western University (see previous summary). The judges recognised that their judgement would have implications in limiting religious freedom. However, promoting equality by ensuring equal access to the legal profession, supporting diversity within the bar, and preventing harm to LGBTQ law students were more important considerations in this decision.
Estimated read time: 14:50Author: Neil FosterPublisher: Law and Religion AustraliaDate accessed: 15/9/19
Authorities To Arrest Canadian Father If He Refers To Trans Child As Her Real Sex
A Canadian school helped a girl transition to a male identity at the age of 12 without her father’s permission (her parents are divorced). When he found out that she was seeking irreversible hormonal treatment, a court overruled his objections and allowed the treatment to proceed. Now that she is receiving the treatment, the court has ordered his arrest if he refers to her by her female birth name or by female pronouns. (N.B. This case has been appealed and so is likely to develop further in the future).
Estimated read time: 3:05Author: Jeremiah KeenanPublisher: The FederalistDate accessed: 23/9/19
Christian father loses appeal to shield kids from LGBT agenda in public school
Another Canadian case: this time a Greek Orthodox man named Steve Tourloukis wanted the school to notify him when they were teaching his then four and six-year-old children about sensitive topics such as homosexuality, abortion and gender identity. The school refused and Tourloukis took them to court. The court ruled that, although the school’s decision violated the Canadian Charter of Rights, ‘the violation was “reasonable” given the competing Charter “values” of “inclusivity, equality and multiculturalism,” and public school boards’ statutory obligations to support equity and create an inclusive school environment.’
Estimated read time: 5:05Author: Lianne LaurencePublisher: Life Site NewsDate accessed: 24/9/19
‘A Victorian teacher has launched legal action against a Christian college claiming she was discriminated against over her political and religious beliefs in support of same sex marriage, setting-up a test case over faith-based protections for religious schools.’
Estimated read time: 3:30Author: Geoff ChambersPublisher: The AustralianDate accessed: 26/9/19
BIBLE PASSAGES CONCERNING RELIGIOUS LIBERTY IN EDUCATION
Matthew 19:13–14 Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them. Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’
Matthew 18:6 ‘If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.’
Proverbs 1:7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Ephesians 6:4 Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
GROUP OR PERSONAL REFLECTION
- Read the Sky News article above (‘The Parents Who Say that their Kids are Being Indoctrinated by UK Schools’) and answer the following questions:
a. Does the fact that gay marriage is now law in Australia give the government and educators the right (and indeed the responsibility) to teach about same-sex marriage, sexuality and gay family structures?
b. How can we care for children who are living in families where parents are of the same gender and ensure they feel included and loved?
c. Is there an argument for an age-appropriate curriculum addressing these issues?
d. What are the arguments for and against parents and schools teaching children about moral issues such as these?
e. If you were to talk to the principal at the public school your child attends, what would you say?
2. The Trinity Western University decision by the Supreme Court of Canada ruled against the university in favour of the right of a gay person to attend the Christian Institution without suffering harm.
a. What could you say about your Christian faith in response to this?
b. What verses from the Bible could you use to support your viewpoint?
c. How could you explain this to others, including a gay peson, in a way that is speaking the truth in love?
We thank you so much for the freedom we have enjoyed in Australia to bring up our children in ‘the training and instruction of the Lord’. We pray for Christian parents: that they would take this responsibility seriously and prioritise the Christian education of their children. Whether their children are in public or private schools, please use parents to pass on the faith from one generation to the next. We thank you for our public schools and we pray that they would be places where children can learn about your amazing world. We pray for wisdom for those who lead these schools. Help them to allow freedom and difference in religion in their midst, without imposing a state religion of secularism on the schools. We pray for Christian schools. May they be unashamedly Christian, even when this might cost them in cultural prestige or even in enrolments. Give leaders courage to stand on biblical foundations and not move. We pray that the government would not restrict the schools from operating according to biblical convictions. We pray that your Spirit would move in these schools as they open your word and that thousands of young people would come into relationship with you through Jesus. We likewise pray for those who persecute us, who spread untruths about Christian schools in the interests of ‘progressive’, secular political agendas, that they too would come to a saving faith in Jesus.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Neil Foster has a four-part series responding to the Ruddock Report around religious liberty and education:
This topic was researched and this page was posted on: 30/09/2019