UPDATED: Christian school in hot water after student banned from speaking about her gay father

NEWS | Tess Holgate
Wednesday 11 November 2015

Two weeks ago, the father of a seven-year-old student at Foundation Christian College in Mandurah, Western Australia, withdrew his daughter from the school after her teacher stopped her from speaking about gay marriage in a news/show-and-tell time in class.

Peter Abetz, Liberal Party Member for Southern River in Western Australia, spoke to the school principal after the story broke.

According to Abetz, the principal said that the mother and father enrolled their little girl in the school, and as they were filling in the enrolment form they said they were separating.

“And the principal said something to the effect of ‘these things happen, we’ll try and be supportive’. But [the father] didn’t let on that they were separating cause he was moving into a same-sex relationship,” said Abetz.

“It’s my understanding that the little girl raised the issue [of gay marriage] in class several times. And the teacher shut the conversation down, and said to the little girl afterwards that it’s something that’s not good to talk about at school.”

When the father came to the school to discuss the issue, Abetz said that the principal told him, “I respect that you have a different view, but just because you have a different view that does not mean we need to change ours, the parents who set this school up want a school that teaches from a religious perspective. This school has a Christian world of life view and that view permeates all aspects of the school life.

The father then reportedly said he would withdraw his child from the school at the end of the term, and that he would take this story to the media, because he felt it was disgraceful.

Some Christians have labelled this a “set up,” but Abetz disagrees.

“I do not think it was a set up. I think the father and the mother did have a strong Christian background, and that they wanted to send their child to a Christian school.”

NEWS | Tess Holgate
Thursday 5 November 2015

The parent of a seven-year-old student at Foundation Christian College in Mandurah, Western Australia, has withdrawn his daughter from the school after her teacher stopped her from speaking to her class about gay marriage.

WAtoday.com.au says her father was called in to the school and told that his daughter could only remain as a student at the Christian College if she never again mentioned her father’s sexuality or his partner.

Late last week the school’s principal, Andrew Newhouse, released a statement saying, “We are completely upfront about the college’s vision and values from the time families express interest in having their children attend the college … A same-sex worldview is not congruent with our Christian worldview.

“The real issue was that the Christian values being taught in the classroom were being undermined … It’s not helpful to confuse children at such a young age with complex and controversial issues.”

Since then the school has been targeted by vandals, and has received hundreds of angry and abusive emails.

Foundation Christian College.

Foundation Christian College.

A change.org petition says, “the principal of Foundation Christian College told the dad that if they knew he was gay at the interview, his kid would never have got into the school.” The petition is calling for publicly funded religious schools to be subject to anti-discrimination laws and has garnered more than 21,000 signatures.

Over the weekend Newhouse hit back on Nine News, insisting the school did not ask the girl to leave because her father is homosexual.

Conservative Christian author and commentator Bill Meuhlenberg says that Christian schools should have the right to promote Christian values, just as Muslim schools promote Muslim values and Jewish school promote Jewish values.

“It should be obvious to parents that [Christian values are] what they’re going to get,” says Muehlenberg.

“No school should have a 100 per cent free run on anything, [but] for a Christian school to simply affirm 200 years of Christian values – they have every right to do so.”

But Foundation Christian College is not representative of all Christian schools.

Philip Heath, principal of Sydney’s Barker College, says that there are many different ways of expressing the Christian faith.

Fewer than one in four students at Barker come from families that attend church, but Heath says that parents who choose to enrol their children at Barker College are making a choice to participate in a culture that expresses and is influenced by the Christian story.

“In schools like Barker, the experience of Christianity is through the articulation of values. We recognise that spiritual lives are private and able to be influenced, but not directed, by the schools setting.”

Foundation Christian College is associated with the Australian Association of Christian Schools (AACS), a group that advocates for about 120 Christian schools in the federal sphere. Executive officer of AACS, Martin Hanscamp, says that AACS can advise member schools, but that they cannot force them to adopt particular policies.

“Among our schools there are a range of beliefs about homosexuality. There are some schools that would accept children where the custodial parents are gay,” says Hanscamp. “But there would also be schools that would hold that children of gay parents wouldn’t be welcome.

“You can’t impose Christian beliefs on people, [but] when a parent signs the enrolment agreement they understand that the school will conduct its affairs in line with the school’s beliefs, and they agree to have their child educated in that context.”

Religious schools in Western Australia are exempt from anti-discrimination legislation as it relates to sexuality.

Martin Hanscamp says, “exemptions are a protection that allow the school to operate in accordance with its core values and beliefs.

He says  the right to discriminate is relevant for the core beliefs of Christian schools, and  it is the role of legislators to balance freedom of religion and the rights of religious groups with society’s expectations of freedom from discrimination.

David Hastie, Education Strategist at Sydney Anglican Schools Corporation, says all SASC schools have an open enrolment policy and seek to provide high quality education to all students, while also sharing the love of Christ with students. “Our staff are Christian, but we welcome families from a wide diversity of faith backgrounds, as do most Australian Christian schools.”

“The best education happens when the parents and the school work in collaboration around agreed values and purposes, and many parents of non-religious backgrounds embrace the values of faith-affiliated schools as a great framework for education.

“We do not consider the sexual preference of parents to be a determining factor in the right of children to be educated in the same way as other children,” says Hastie.

He says that the problem is not that religiously affiliated schools are exempt from sections of anti-discrimination legislation, insofar as it applies to employment of staff, because “exemptions operate everywhere,” for all sorts of employment arrangements for all kinds of organisations. But the hard and fast categories of “yes” and “no” in anti-discrimination legislation require nuance and subtlety, when it comes to dealing with children.

“But I think it’s wrong to discriminate on the basis of the sexual preferences of the parents,” says Hastie. “Why is this issue more important than other issues that may be a point of difference between parents and a Christian school?”

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