Sunday, 19 July 2009

Discrimination In Religious Schools

Melbourne Grammar School Chapel Tower A review of Victoria’s Equal Opportunity Act has made some interesting recommendations.

At the moment, religious schools in Victoria have the right to discriminate on the basis of faith. For example, a Muslim school can refuse to employ a Jewish cleaner or a conservative Christian school a woman who is unmarried and pregnant.

A parliamentary review has recommended broadening the definition into “core” and “non-core” roles, so discrimination would only be applied to roles where it actually matters. Under this model the school chaplain can’t be a Satanist but it doesn’t matter so much if the maths teacher is (although he does go on about pentagrams a fair bit … ).

People running religious schools obviously think it’s a bad idea. And I agree.

This is just too one-sided. Even now, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find any number of atheists teaching in Christian schools, where their atheism is overlooked just because of their teaching ability.

This proposal takes us in completely the wrong direction. We should give more discriminatory power to these schools, not less.

In fact, let’s go the whole hog. Religious schools should be obliged to only employ people who share their faith.

Before being appointed, applicants must prove their allegiance by swearing on their particular holy book and passing a detailed examination on the tenets of their doctrine.

All staff must be monitored constantly to ensure their behaviour is in line with the appropriate religious doctrine. Any breaches of protocol, whether on school grounds or in the person’s home, will result in immediate dismissal.

Of course religious schools might struggle to retain staff under such a regime, and student numbers would drop off as teaching standards fell.

And Government funding would have to be cut because they’d now be straight religious institutions rather than educational institutions.

And in fact, after a while we’d probably see very few religious schools remaining.

That’d be a shame.

But keeping the schools’ religious values pure is obviously critically important, so surely that’s a small price to pay.


Rob said...

I met a guy who was a cleaner at a synagogue who said it was a condition of his employment that he wasn't Jewish. That way he could come in on Saturdays and clean.

Getting people to swear on a holy book to ensure that they are religious wouldn't work, though. Cos if they weren't religious then there'd be no consequence of them swearing on a holy book they didn't believe in. I remember seeing a TV show (Trials of Oz) which was a dramatisation of the transcripts from a famous UK court case, and in it Marty Feldman refused to swear on the bible as he didn't believe in it. I can't remember what they did in the end, but I thought it interesting at the time. (I can't remember who they got to play Marty Feldman, either, but he did a pretty good job).

Would this idea of yours extend to non-religious schools? Would someone who was a creationist be allowed to teach a class on evolution?

In my mind what a person believes is far less important than what they teach. A school (secular or religious) will have a policy on what is and isn't taught and the teachers should abide by that policy. So it shouldn't matter whether the staff (teaching or otherwise) hold a particular religious belief, as long as what they teach reflects the schools policy.

Matt said...

You're absolutely right. What a teacher teaches is all that matters. What they believe is, or should be, irrelevant.
In a secular school system that's the case. There would be no problem with a creationist teaching evolution as long as they stuck to the syllabus.
In religious schools education is claimed to be the important thing, along with the nebulous idea of "values". But what this shows is that indoctrination is also high on their agenda.

Rob said...

The thing is I know quite a few people who send their kids to religious schools even though they themselves are not religious. I don't understand this myself but they feel that the superior educational opportunities the kids will get from going to a private school will out weigh the fact that they will have to do RE and hear about God.
Personally I think they're wrong on both counts. I haven't really seen much evidence that a private or church-based school provides a better education. That is, of course, a different debate, but it fascinates me that atheist or at least agnostic parents will expose their kids to that indoctrination on the expectation they will get a better education.

Sam Sejavka said...


of course the hidden atheists, the spies among the ranks, serve a valuable purpose. The high educational standards at my catholic secondary school led to my complete abandonment of religion.

Dave ~ said...

I like your thinking!

I myself, being a believer in the flying spaghetti monster would find it difficult to find employment under such a scheme.

Rob, you're right about the inconsistency about atheists sending their kids to religious schools. I'm pretty sure my bastard child (I'm quite proud of that) would burst into flames should they attend a catholic school. Catching fire every time they went to class would surely effect their studies.

Sean the Blogonaut F.C.D. said...

I think that my education was largely secular and most of my teachers were very left politically, good old catholic ed in Alice Springs.

I returned to the school as a buddhist and relief taught without any problems. If I had gone permanent I would have had to undergo catechism training.

I think most mainstream Christian schools are predominantly secular, less so the closer you get to the fringe, though I have heard of creationists teaching at my old school.

Ross said...

I'm a Christian, but always went to state schools. If I had children and I wasn't a Christian, I wouldn't send my children to a Christian school. An acquaintance of mine is a principal at a Christian school. He tells parents that want to enrol their kids at his school that there should be consistency between what is taught in the classroom and the home.

As for the Victorian situation, as I see it, it's not a matter of discrimination, but commonsense.

Let's imagine you're looking for work. If you don't support the ethos of an organisation, religious or otherwise, you're probably not going to be a good fit for it as a motivated and productive employee, and chances are they're probably not going to waste their time by employing you anyway.

Sean the Blogonaut F.C.D. said...

@ Ross,

If Christia Schools were entirely private concerns I miht agree with you, but they are heavily funded by state & federal monies.

What if you are gay and christian? Christianity has a range of responses to gay people from acceptance to outright hate. This is a law that allows bigots to operate unhindered.

Ross said...

Why single out gay people? If you want to talk about discrimination, from where I see it, racial discrimination and discrimination against the disabled are more of a problem than that against the gay community. Sometimes I get the impression that the militant element of the gay community seems all too ready to label anyone as homophobic or bigoted anyone who opposes them.

Sean the Blogonaut F.C.D. said...


Why single out gay people?

I refered to them but that's not to exclude the disabled or ethnic minorities.

I see people fighting for all these groups. I don't share your perception of gay activists.