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A Word From AACS Executive Officer, Martin Hanscamp

Advice for Christian Schools on Christian Employment

One Christian school group (a member of AACS) has recently spent a large amount of money obtaining legal advice on the defensibility of requiring staff to be Christian and minimising the risk against discrimination claims. A lengthy document of advice resulted and it shows that these matters require consideration and time to digest and should be tailored to each organisation’s context.

It’s important to note that the protection afforded via ‘exemptions’ is presently under considerable challenge and that Christian schools should prepare for a changing context by being able to demonstrate that there is a ‘genuine occupational requirement’ for each staff member to be Christian. This involves ‘hard wiring’ explicit Christian belief and expectations into the school’s core documents (Constitution and Statement of Faith) and incorporating expectations for staff around lifestyle or support for school beliefs into appropriate documentation.

Even whilst we might not agree with a narrow and dualistic understanding of faith (ours is a holistic view that Christ’s rule involves “all things”) yet we need to understand that that is the commonly held (‘separatist’) view of religion in Australia and therefore that view will be applied to interpreting discrimination law. As such, Christian schools need to ensure that all staff are engaged in explicit ‘religious’ activity so that these aspects in a job description will meet a ‘genuine’ occupational requirement test, e.g. the requirement to lead devotions and prayer and not just to attend. Here, it is not enough to say that we require staff to be Christian but that we outline a ‘genuine’ reason for them to be so.

It is quite likely that following the SSM survey, and likely legislative change, that previously untested discrimination law in this area will soon become tested. Therefore, we encourage schools to review their documentation and processes and practices on an ongoing basis thereby maintaining character/ ethos and minimising risk.

 

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