Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia


13 December 2018

Opportunity for informed debate on religious freedom deserves support



‘Public debate on the status of religious freedom in Australia and how it may best be protected was not served well by media coverage of leaks from the Ruddock Review report,’ said AHISA’s CEO Ms Beth Blackwood. ‘Australians now have the opportunity to read the full report and, in due course, consider carefully the implications of new and amended legislation.’


Ms Blackwood said the way events had unfolded in the last two months offered important lessons for all Australians.


‘If we are to maintain a clear space for informed public debate on contentious issues, we must resist reacting to media coverage that puts the pursuit of “click bait” before responsible reporting,’ said Ms Blackwood. ‘We must also be aware that the pursuit of short-term political advantage can unnecessarily undermine social harmony, so we must resist quick fixes and seek instead to support those actions that uphold the best possible democratic processes.’


Ms Blackwood said school leaders had also learned powerful lessons from recent events.


‘What we have clearly seen in the past two months is that what may be recognised and upheld by a community leader as a high level principle can at the same time be felt as a very deep and personal hurt by a community member,’ said Ms Blackwood. ‘There is a tension between the right to religious freedom and anti-discrimination rights and school leaders must communicate clearly to their communities the ways in which they reconcile these rights.’


Ms Blackwood said the Government’s proposal to legislate for religious freedom rather than rely on exemptions to anti-discrimination laws could offer a way forward to allow schools with a religious affiliation to celebrate and practise their religious heritage while at the same time maintaining inclusive practices.


‘The Government’s intended program of review and consultation offers the opportunity for informed public debate,’ said Ms Blackwood. ‘We should resist any attempt to derail that opportunity.’




 Opportunity for informed debate on religious freedom deserves support