…Gay students getting expelled from religious schools is one of them.
Without dobbing him in (although he’ll know who he is), one of my friends is deeply religious and a genuine libertarian. As in, he is not trying to impose his church’s morality with respect to gays, abortion, drugs, guns, or whatever else controversial on others. I also consider him well-informed about theology. I can say this because before I qualified in law, my amusing and useless pre-law studies were in classics. This means I can read Latin. Yes, I mainly use it to translate school mottoes and appreciate smut, but when pushed, I can also interpret ancient church literature. Don’t judge.
Yesterday on Facebook, he posted the following article, the nub of which is this:
NSW Labor will throw its support behind a push to abolish controversial laws that allow private schools to expel or discriminate against gay or transgender students.
Independent MP for Sydney Alex Greenwich has introduced a private member’s bill to remove exemptions for private schools from parts of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act, a move some faith-based schools say could threaten their religious freedom.
For an American, this is simple. There’s this thing called the First Amendment. Public schools are ruled by the state. Private schools are ruled by their owners, and subject to far fewer restrictions. However, in Australia—although it, too, has a Constitutional anti-establishment clause—religious schools do receive state funding. Quite a bit of it. The simple and obvious solution—once again to my American friends—is to abolish state funding for religious schools. That would mean the religious schools could keep their moral rules.
There’s a problem with that, though. So many Australian students attend religious or other private schools that the state system would collapse if the private schools were to shut down. Additionally, the state funding operates almost like a voucher system, as it’s based on enrollments. Parents have to choose to send their child to a given school before it receives any money for that student. That said, we are also dealing with children, and must consider when it’s legitimate to deploy a ‘what about the children?’ argument.
Needless to say, a thread o’ doom ensued.
I think it’s fair to say some religious people feel that their backs are against the wall right now. When cultural values shifted on other fraught issues in the past (abortion, women’s rights, interracial marriage), they did so slowly. This time (and I say this as someone on the inside of the debate), the shift has been extraordinary: measurable in years, not decades or centuries. I don’t know why that is. There is no way that anyone would have dared to be out at my high school. And yet, I talk to people a mere ten years younger than me who had LGBT clubs. At high school. I would have worried about being killed, never mind expulsion.
Now, if you’re socially tolerant, that’s a good thing. Social tolerance is sweeping all before it. Religious adherence is in steep decline throughout the developed world, and there’s a serious argument to be made that the psychotic violence currently gripping much of the Islamic world is symptomatic of a religion in the process of losing its grip. Because I think that religion is a social phenomenon, capable of growth, decline, and extinction, on that thread o’ doom, I could offer no solace to either side: religious people wanting freedom of association, and socially tolerant persons of all stripes wanting to protect young people from bigotry.
When two sets of rights collide, it’s just hard, and no ideology will provide an easy (or even complete) answer.