Religious Exemption: Give it a Year – or Ten

Christian educational institutions need to get a wriggle on.

Schools and other educational institutions which receive government funding have less time than they think to come up with alternate ways to educate students from an orthodox Christian framework and within a specifically orthodox ethical setting.

This has been highlighted by the move by Western Australian Greens to introduce legislation to WA’s state Parliament to ensure that the same sex marriage decision bleeds into every aspect of life, including the removal of religious exemptions for schools. Greens Upper House MP, Alison Xamon says the Bill is designed to stop the flow of public funding to religious schools who won’t sign up:

They are receiving taxpayer dollars and frankly what someone’s sexuality or gender identity or marital status is, is really irrelevant to being able to teach, or to garden, or to be able to work in administration at a particular school.

You can read the full article here.

Of course this move was always going to be the next step, though many well-meaning people, including many Christians, imagined that there would be some sort of magical firewall to make sure alternate ethical communities were protected.

This move was always going to be the next step, though many well-meaning people, including many Christians, imagined that there would be some sort of magical firewall to make sure alternate ethical communities were protected

Well it turns out that will not be the case. Although at this stage, it’s a Greens proposal, it’s hard to see the major parties holding out for very long—despite the wishes of the schools they represent (and the many families, Christian and non-Christian, who benefit from those schools).

Religion Lite

But it’s what Xamon says about the fundamental nature of religious practice that is most intriguing. In the proposed bill she kept in a clause that allows discrimination on “religious grounds”. She states:

The reason I decided to keep that in there is because what I’m not trying to do is mess with the fundamental integrity of the make-up of religious schools. So a Jewish school can still have Jewish students, Muslim schools can still have Muslim students, Catholic schools can still prioritise Catholic students, there’s no problem with that.

Great. So a Jewish community can still think Jewishly, a Muslim community can still think Muslimly, and a Christian community can still think Christianly. Those communities just shouldn’t expect to be allowed to apply what they believe.

Here, the Greens, and Alison Xamon, fail to grasp the fact that for serious believers, religion is a matter of whole world, whole person, whole practice. In Xamon’s mind it’s a private reality that has no bearing on the outward or social life of a person; a minor aspect of a person’s identity that can be safely sealed-off from the public.

Selective Freedom

Back in the day, I remember a number of left-leaning Christians with car bumper stickers “As a Christian I Oppose the Death Penalty.”

I oppose it too, and am more than happy to express that view in public and work towards that given the opportunity. But these days, freedom to express such religiously motivated ethics is in the process of being controlled.

I expect this kind of thing from the Greens. But it’s surprising from Alison Xamon, who herself has a religious background.  She is a solid person and a good MP with a heart for mental-health issues and refugee welfare. I have debated her in a church setting on issues to do with teleology and the future of humanity. I presume that her concern for refugees, is borne at least in part from a religious framework.

Which is why it’s strange that she can’t see the problem. It would be oppressive and patronising to tell Alison Xamon that she could believe what she wants about refugees, but not be permitted to act on it: to say, for example, that she couldn’t engage in a public protest, or employ people who agree with her views.

It would be oppressive and patronising to tell Alison Xamon that she could believe what she wants about refugees, but not be permitted to act on it. Yet she will not allow the same freedom of conscience to others.

Yet she will not allow the same freedom of conscience to others. When it comes to matters of sexuality and gender, religious schools need to just fall in line with the people in power. As she says:

Fundamentally at the end of the day we need to remember that schools are there to also provide a service. They are receiving taxpayer dollars and frankly what someone’s sexuality or gender identity or marital status is, is really irrelevant to being able to teach or to garden or to be able to work in administration at a particular school.

Government funding, in other words, comes with strings attached. If you want tax-dollars you need to bow before what only the government decides is right or wrong. No matter that sexual ethics are some of the deepest held beliefs and practices to people of faith. No matter that these beliefs existed long before this government.

This is stateism at its ugliest, and as someone who has protested against a variety of government over-reaches, Xamon should know better. She and the Greens have decided which ethical frameworks should be allowed to be aired publicly and supported, and which should not be.

A Clear Trajectory

Now I often get accused as being a “sky is going to fall in” person when it comes to this issue of why the government’s relationship to alternative ethical communities (such as our own), but moves like Xamon’s show us a clear trajectory. More and more, the state, aided and abetted by an enthusiastically activist mainstream media will want to enforce conformity on contrary views that they consider beyond the pale.

And that means that Christian institutions better get their act together and soon.

They’d better come up with alternate funding methods and work out how to organise themselves for a stripped-back, lean system that relies less on bricks and mortar.  And they’re going to need to do it quickly.

How many years do they have to do that? Not all that many if Alison Xamon’s word prove correct:

These are discriminatory, out-dated provisions on our statutes and I am anticipating that at some point in the future, whether it be in a year or whether it be in a decade, that we are going to see a wind back of these laws at a federal level.

Christian institutions have about ten years—tops—to sort this out. The time to start working on this was five years ago. How are your institutions going?


First published at stephenmcalpine.com

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