Catholic school body defends stance on Anti-Discrimination exemptions

by Brett Henebery11 Mar 2015

Commonwealth and State laws protect staff from discrimination, but they also protect religious freedom, says a Catholic Education Commission NSW (CECNSW) spokesman.
 
The CECNSW spokesman told The Educator that the Catholic Church respects and defends the dignity and rights of all people, regardless of sexual orientation.

The spokesman said that no form of harassment or vilification is tolerated, and no legal protection for faith-based schools extends to such acts.

“It is fundamental to a free society that the law should protect the right all people have to act on their religious beliefs in a community and to uphold them in their works and activities,” the spokesman told The Educator.  

“This is also essential to freedom of association and freedom of speech.”

In February, the Independent Education Union (IEU) general secretary, John Quessy, said that many Catholic teachers feared that a new Code of Behaviour clause would open their personal lives to scrutiny and that they would not be able to rely on Anti-Discrimination Act for protection.

Following Quessy’s statement, the IEU’s assistant general-secretary, Pam Smith, this week said the exemptions constituted a “human rights issue” and required immediate review by the Federal Government.
“We just don’t see that there should be a blanket opportunity for discrimination in this day and age,” Smith told The Educator.

“These are human rights issues.”

However, the CECNSW spokesman cited a “complex legal framework” in NSW, consisting of both Commonwealth and State laws which protect people from unjust discrimination but which also protects religious freedom.

“Church agencies and schools are part of the framework of anti-discrimination law in NSW. Freedom of thought, religion and conscience go together under international human rights documents and the law is obliged to protect these rights,” the spokesman said.

“The call by the IEU to repeal exemptions in the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 for non-government schools ignores the complementary way in which NSW and Commonwealth acts operate together.”