Secular Education

Private School

Private School (Photo credit: mikecogh)

One of the myths of Australia is that we have a secular political system. Nowhere is this myth more obviously false than in our funding of education.

As well as the secular public education system we have a large number of “private” schools with a religious nature that receive generous public support. The Catholic school system, run by the Catholic Education Office, is so generously funded that it charges little in the way of fees and may as well be a public school system. Other so-called “private” schools may charge fees but still continue to receive a great deal of public support. At the same time the fees charged are tax deductible so still further money is taken from the public purse. The vast majority of these schools are Christian of some denomination or other with a small number of Jewish and Muslim schools adding to the high percentage of religious schools.

Australia is one of the few countries in the world where private schools receive public money and spends the greatest percentage of its education funds on these schools and it isn’t going to improve any time soon. One of the rules given to the Gonski committee when they were looking at school funding was that no school could be worse off under the scheme, and make no mistake this was meant to insulate the major private schools from inevitable funding cuts.

Given that they compromise such a large drain on the public purse you might think that these schools would be prepared to obey the same laws as the rest of our society, including the public schools.

There you would be wrong. Private, religious schools are exempt from a number of laws but most importantly discrimination legislation.

A private school is allowed to ask your religion at a job interview, they can sack a staff member for homosexuality and worst of all, expel a student for the same thing. The schools claim to do this rarely but they certainly reserve the right and students are often warned about coming out to the entire school. The school is also exempt from acting on any other discrimination inside the school – a gay student can be thrown off the debating team or school cadets and the school is not required to do anything.

Even if we discard the moral problems with accepting public money but not public rules this policy is a tragedy.

Teenagers struggling with their sexuality need our support. Suicide is the greatest killer of young Australian men between the ages of 15 and 25. Homosexual teens are many times more likely to kill themselves than heterosexual teens. At a time when we should be doing everything to support these young people I find it immoral that an education system would do anything to stigmatise these young people or make their lives even one iota more difficult rather than shift heaven and earth to make them more comfortable and accepting of their difference. Make no mistake, the intolerant attitude of these schools is killing young people.

The independent member for the State electorate of Sydney (who took his seat last year in a by-election when Clover Moore was forced to resign from Parliament) is planning to introduce a member’s bill into the NSW lower house to abolish the law exempting schools from discrimination legislation.

As it says in the Sydney Morning Herald “While in opposition in 2011, Greg Smith, now NSW Attorney-General, was open to reviewing the law. ‘‘I personally think it is something that should be reviewed, looked at with a view to perhaps changing it. Times have changed,’’ he said.” We will now see if he feels the same way in government.

Read the article and you will hear the same arguments from the schools about “religious freedom”, the same tired arguments.

My reply is that you are perfectly free to spout your intolerance in your church, but not in your publicly funded school.

I just don’t see why I and my fellow taxpayers should be expected to pay for it. If you don’t want our laws and morals then don’t take our money. If you do take our money then you must accept our laws.

If you read the article on the Sydney Morning Herald website you will see that while the schools prattle on about religious freedom the Human Rights Council of Australia agrees with me. “It is reasonable for the state to require public funds to be expended and applied wholly in accordance with principles of nondiscrimination.”

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