The Andrew’s Government in Victoria has rammed the Equal Opportunity (Religious Exceptions) Amendment Bill 2021 through the Legislative Assembly, and it’s now with the Legislative Council.
The proposed amendments directly targets Islamic schools, and other faith-based schools, essentially removing their right to employ Muslim staff without the threat of Government intervention. If passed, the changes could be effective as early as mid-December this year.
In the Government’s own words, the changes will affect the employment of ‘priests, ministers, rabbis, imams or other members of a religious order’ – going to the heart of faith communities. (1)
This is another example of the blatant aggressive secular agenda the Andrews Government has been pursuing, determined to gradually reduce religious freedoms in Victoria. Islamic school communities are rightfully concerned that with time the Government’s legislation could lead to increasing secularisation of Islamic and other faith schools.
Christian Schools Alliance has prepared a campaign website to focus on the Upper House Opposition and Crossbench MLCs which includes a template email at https://valuedvoices.org.au/viceo/
It’s important that Australian Muslims are vocal in raising their concerns.
The Bill is presented as being about inclusion and equality, designed to afford greater protections for LGBTIQ students, teachers and staff. However the Bill is also making religious belief, and the right to live out those beliefs, very much subservient to the rights of others, who don’t share those beliefs. This isn’t equality.
Parents should have the right to send their children to faith based schools where the staff, their teachers, their peers and the overall learning environment is aligned with the same Islamic ethos, values and beliefs, the observances and religious practices the child has in their home.
Muslim students are also free from religious discrimination in Islamic schools where there is no threat of Islamophobia. Faith schools allow children to grow with a sense of belonging and participate more fully and more confidently in society. The Bill removes faith based schools from being able to continue offering a learning environment aligned with their religious ethos.
Another area of concern is how The Bill impacts Islamic schools in running programs for the school community to increase participation of Muslim women and girls in sport and active recreation.
We’re very fortunate that most Islamic schools in Victoria now collaborate with local councils and local sports clubs to run programs where Muslim women and girls from the school community feel safe and welcome to participate in sport and recreation in a way that aligns with their religious observances, without discrimination.
Through these school programs Australian Muslim mums and girls are able to participate in ladies only golf sessions, ladies football, girls soccer, girls basketball, Ladies only Pilates and women’s only swimming sessions held in a select number of pools in high Muslim demographic regions, one day a week.
These are significant milestones towards improving the overall health of communities in highly diverse postcodes.
It’s important that Islamic schools are able to continue running these programs, designed for Muslim women and girls, without the fear of Government intervention.
The final opportunity to raise your concerns is now. The Bill is with the Legislative Council, Upper House and will be considered by the Legislative Council in the last sitting week of the year, 30 November – 2 December 2021.
Islamic schools and organisations are strongly encouraged to contact opposition and crossbench MLCs to object to this blatant attack on the religious freedom and to be able to continue operating as Islamic schools and organisations in Victoria.