'No desire' to discriminate against gay staff or students: Archbishop

Dr Freier signals support for removing discrimination exemptions currently legal for faith-based schools

Archbishop of Melbourne Philip Freier

PHOTO: Janine Eastgate

By Chris Shearer

November 7 2018 

Archbishop of Melbourne Dr Philip Freier says schools in the diocese have “no desire” for the legal right to discriminate against LGBTIQ staff and students.

Dr Freier also called on the Federal Government to release the Ruddock report into religious freedom immediately, saying “speculation and possible misunderstanding” was fuelling the controversy around religious schools and LGBTIQ staff and students.

“Media coverage about the Ruddock report into religious freedom and the right of faith-based schools to expel students or dismiss staff on the grounds of their sexual orientation has raised considerable concern in the community,” he said.

“No Anglican school in Melbourne has – to my knowledge – ever taken either action. Further, we have no desire to do so, and no desire for the legal right to discrimination along those lines.”

Dr Freier acknowledged that there was a “wide variety of beliefs about human sexuality in the Church”, but said this diversity allowed schools to be “inclusive and.. help all students and staff to flourish”.

“The Anglican understanding, which applies to Anglican schools, is that every human being is created in the image of God, with inalienable dignity and incorruptible value.”

“We want all our schools to be communities where all students and staff alike see themselves as persons known and loved by God, supported by their whole school community to face the challenges of their journey and to enjoy life in its fullness.”

Dr Freier’s statement comes as pressure continues to build on the Anglican schools in NSW who last week wrote to federal MPs urging them to protect exemptions that currently permit them to fire or expel LGBTIQ staff and students.

According to the ABC, two of the signatories, the heads of Abbotsleigh Private School for Girls and Barker College, have distanced themselves from the letter after backlash from their communities.

Both have since apologised and signalled they would now support removing the discrimination exemptions.

Another, St Katherine’s School headmistress Julie Townsend, is under intense pressure after 580 former students wrote an open letter condemning her response to the backlash.

On 15 October, ten days before the open letter was sent to federal MPs, Archbishop of Sydney Glen Davies told the Sydney Synod that there was no “imaginary epidemic of students being expelled from religious schools”.

“Let’s be very clear. Anglican schools in Sydney do not expel students for being gay. It is an absurd proposition and it is certainly not something we asked for in our submission to the Ruddock Review,” he said. “We would gladly support any amendment to the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 which would clarify this.”