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Religious discrimination and equality before the law



After the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey in 2017, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull appointed me to an expert panel chaired by long time Liberal member of Parliament Philip Ruddock. Our task was to ‘examine and report on whether Australian law (Commonwealth, State and Territory) adequately protects the human right to freedom of religion’.

The Ruddock Committee reported to government in May 2018. Parts of our report were leaked selectively during the Wentworth by-election in October 2018. There was a passionate and divisive debate in the Parliament in December 2018 when the Labor Party unsuccessfully introduced a Bill seeking protection for LGBTQI students in religious schools. Both sides of politics pledged their commitment to resolving the issue before the 2019 election. They did not. Last week, three years on, our politicians reactivated the debate and once again failed to resolve the matter. Once again we will go to the polls with the matter unresolved.

Back in 2009, I had the privilege of chairing the National Human Rights Consultation for the Rudd Government. I was chosen as the chair because I had written an academic article declaring myself to be a fence-sitter on the issue of a national human rights act. Previously I had published a book expressing opposition to a US style constitutional bill of rights. During that consultation, I came down off the fence, and supported a recommendation for a statutory human rights act. My main reason was a little esoteric in the eyes of non-lawyers. I was aware that in the past the Australian High Court often looked to the decisions of other ultimate courts of appeal, especially in countries such as the UK, New Zealand and Canada. But all those other countries now have some form of national human rights act. Whenever the courts are needing to consider novel legislation dealing with emerging problems such as border security and terrorism, the courts of those other countries scrutinise the new laws in light of their human rights act.

I thought that the Australian High Court risked becoming jurisprudentially isolated from other ultimate courts of appeal. Ironically, by not legislating for a national human rights act, our politicians are leaving it up to the judges to invent for themselves the criteria for assessing these contested new laws. I say ‘ironically’, because the politicians most opposed to a human rights act say they want to ensure that the judges are not given too much power. It’s only a human rights act which will provide the bright line solutions set down by elected politicians for unelected judges to follow.


'At the national level we have never enacted a law prohibiting discrimination on the ground of religion. With the multiplication of discrimination laws, it would make sense to harmonise those laws. But that is easier said than done.'


In the absence of a human rights act, we Australians have prided ourselves on being good international citizens having signed up to all the key international human rights instruments and taking them seriously. This means enacting domestic legislation reflecting the key provisions of these international covenants and providing detailed reports to UN committees overseeing the implementation of these instruments. We have tended to do this by enacting laws which prohibit discrimination, whether on the grounds of race, sex, age, or disability. But at the national level we have never enacted a law prohibiting discrimination on the ground of religion. With the multiplication of discrimination laws, it would make sense to harmonise those laws. But that is easier said than done.

The Ruddock panel members, like the Australian community, had varying views on the desirability of a national human rights act. At the time, no major political party supported a national human rights act. That’s still the case. A human rights act was not an option for our panel to propose. Many religious groups who appeared before the Ruddock panel agitated for a Religious Freedom Act which would guarantee religious groups a panoply of positive rights. But in the absence of a human rights act, we could not see how we could privilege the right to religious freedom over other rights. The best we could do was to recommend a national Religious Discrimination Act which ensured that individuals and groups would not be discriminated against on the basis of their religion and that individuals and groups could be discriminating in preferring the appointment or employment of individuals who supported the religious mission of a religious organisation, in much the same way that a political party or politician could preference the employment of staffers who support their political agenda.

In recent days, if you were to listen to the media reports, you could be forgiven for thinking that religious educators want to retain a right to exclude children or teachers from their schools on the basis of their gender or sexual orientation. Nothing could be further from the truth. Or nothing should be further from the truth. Three years ago, Archbishop Mark Coleridge, the President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, told the Parliament: ‘Catholic schools do not use the exemptions in the Sex Discrimination Act to expel or otherwise discriminate against students on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.’ Ms Ann Maree Rebgetz, Board Director of Secondary Principals Australia told the parliamentary committee: ‘Catholic secondary principals have a strong moral compass in relation to the treatment of secondary students in our schools. They believe that inclusivity, as a gospel value, must reign supreme in the treatment of their clientele. This translates into the safeguarding of all students, and particularly those students who are in a minority and may feel marginalised. Religious schools should not be able to discriminate against students on the basis of their sexual orientation and identity.’

Undoubtedly there are many sensitive and novel issues to consider when looking to the best interests of transgender children and their classmates, especially in single sex schools. These are challenges for all schools, and not just religious ones. All school systems need to train teachers and administrators to deal with these issues compassionately and competently. The guidelines of the Melbourne archdiocese for ‘Pastoral care for students experiencing gender dysphoria’ are an indicator that the Catholic school system is responding appropriately from the top. The challenge is to ensure that teachers in the classroom have a clear understanding of the Church position and community expectations, as well as the training to assist children in these circumstances.

When marking the 50th anniversary of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, Pope John Paul II called for a collective examination of conscience. He spoke of ‘the tendency of some to choose one or another right at their convenience, while ignoring those which are contrary to their current interests occurs too frequently. Others do not hesitate to isolate particular rights from their context in order to act as they please, often confusing freedom with licence, or to provide themselves with advantages which take little account of human solidarity.’

Whatever happens with the religious discrimination debate before and after the next election, we need to ensure that we are not trumpeting one right over another. Religious schools should retain the freedom to teach their religious doctrine and to choose staff sympathetic to the school’s religious ethos. We all have the freedom to manifest our religion or beliefs subject to whatever lawful limitations are needed to protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of others. And we all have the right to equality before the law being entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law.

After the next election, it would be desirable for our Parliament to legislate a lean and clean Religious Discrimination Act. The Religious Discrimination Act and the Sex Discrimination Actshould be harmonised to ensure that no school can discriminate against any child on the basis of their gender or sexual orientation; and that ‘nothing in the Sex Discrimination Act renders it unlawful to engage in teaching activity if that activity is in good faith in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of a particular religion or creed, and is done by, or with the authority of, an educational institution that is conducted in accordance with those doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings’.



This is an edited version of an address delivered by Fr Frank Brennan SJ AO to the Cardinal Newman Dinner. Read the full text of the address here.


Frank BrennanFr Frank Brennan SJ is the Rector of Newman College, Melbourne, the Distinguished Fellow of the P M Glynn Institute, Australian Catholic University, and the former CEO of Catholic Social Services Australia (CSSA). He is a peritus at the Fifth Plenary Council of the Australian Catholic Church.

Main image: Parliament House. (Chris Beavon/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Frank Brennan, Anti-discrimination, Freedom of religion, Religious Discrimination Bill


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Existing comments

we are living in a country where religious freedom does exist but i have found that if you wish to abstain during Lent and you are attending a luncheon you are told you can't do that here .
the things that you are giving up are shoved under your nose left right and centre
isnt this a form of discrimination as well as persecution

Maryellen Flynn | 22 February 2022  
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I hardly think that a problem arising out of the existential crisis that you make it, Maryellen. Why not absent yourself from the event? Your presence would be akin to attending and participating in the Celebration of the Eucharistic Banquet while declining to partake of the cuisine that the chefs in their kindness and generosity have prepared for you.

Michael Furtado | 25 February 2022  

Why should MaryEllen hide her light under a bushel when Jews and Muslims concerned about pork don’t, or should they stay away too from dinner events?

roy chen yee | 27 February 2022  

Wondering why you voted and promoted for same sex marriage with the unintended consequences that have now arisen?

Graham and Pam McLennan | 22 February 2022  
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Didn't want to vote for marriage equality because civil rights should not be decided by public opinion polls, but I don't regret supporting it.

Brett | 25 February 2022  

Grahan and Pam, the religiou descrimination bill is not just about reconciling LGBTI rights in religious context. (And Frank's article already made it clear that it has never been the intention or policy of Catholic institution to exclude LGBTI people or even divorced people for that matter)
There are many other pressing religious rights issues the bill should cover- like protecting minority religious groups etc, the wearing of religious clothing, time and space for prayer in the workplace.
So one hand it was fortunate the bill didn't get through (because of the fundamentalist and unChristian wedge issues on excuding LGBTI students),

AURELIUS | 03 March 2022  

While I still read ES articles, I've started to avoid the comments section, because it seems every discussion ends in a moral debate about homosexuality or transexuality.
Are we really still debating this?
I'm sure the heterosexuals who are commenting are quite confident that they know how to live a moral life. For that's how God made you in His image. So let me reassure you that the homosexuals amongst us also know deep down that we are living moral lives, made in the image of God.
Professor Alfred Kinsey warns of the inherent dangers that arise when one focuses exclusively on sexual activities, forgetting the emotional aspects of intimate interactions. So for people commenting here to be obsessed with "homosexual acts" seems to be lacking in something, Not a single mention of love.
We are not animals, but human, It's not just about sex, but about the acknowledgment of intimate social and emotional connections.
So maybe Freud could offer us some wisdom on why people seem to be so obsessed with sex! It's my view that maybe the ones obsessed are actually uncomfortable with their own sexuality.

AURELIUS | 03 March 2022  

Well said Aurelius, the obsession that some of our regular contributors have about sexual acts might be described as pathological.

Ginger Meggs | 04 March 2022  

Thanks ES and Frank for both versions; I admire Frank's stickativity to the issue, I'm sure that more than a decade of both attacking and defending every legal, philosophical and religious angle must have been demanding and I anticipate frustrating that the Bill remains unresolved. Perhaps the "ice-breaker" is to introduce a legal heirarchy of Rights where some are (pre)determined to have more lawful consideration than others...righty Rights, but it'd be fanciful to think this could be demonstrated in 200 words or less. Various rights aspects can be cross-linked; the right to freedom of assembly and association may also be relevant to the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief (article 18) the right to freedom of opinion and expression (article 19) the right to freedom of movement (article 12)
Rights of movement and association can be restricted on any of the grounds in article 12(3) of the ICCPR, namely national security, public order, public health or morals or the rights and freedoms of others. Perhaps making a law ultimately just drives a sub-culture of resentment; is it preferable to be admitted where you're unknowingly unwelcomed or excluded but know (if not understand) why? I am unsure of the lesser of two evils.

ray | 22 February 2022  
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Thanks, Ray. An interesting post! I think the difficulty with 'under the radar' survival, as much as it worked for, say, 'secreted' Jews within Nazi-controlled territory during WWII, is that, at best, it offers a temporary panacea. Survival, in sum, assumes great attraction when death is the only other option!

Beyond such contexts, I cannot imagine that as such a committed democrat (brilliant contrarian though you are) you would not take the view that all other conditions being the same, GLBTIQ+ persons would be deserving of exactly the same rights as those of any other persons, and where rights clash it would be up to the courts and philosophers to decide which ones were fictitious and which others authentic.

This brings me back to an issue on which we have clashed in past posts. It happens that Catholic Social Teaching and sentiment currently privileges the considering power differentials between parties when disagreement obtains about competing rights claims.

The Jesuits, in particular, attach great importance to this principle, which is called 'the preferential option for the poor.' While it may occur that the secular courts don't attach such consideration to their decisions, a Journal like Eureka Street might promote another view.

Michael Furtado | 06 April 2022  

Matters of values are always hotly debated. One of the problems with drafting and passing an appropriate Religious Discrimination Act is that many people want to discriminate and limit the freedom of conventionally religious people, with particular reference to Christians, not necessarily because of their beliefs, but primarily because of who they are and what their opponents think that means.

Edward Fido | 23 February 2022  

I went to Frank's link and read the statement, and was surprised. It seems that a Catholic girls school would enrol a biological male who identifies as a girl. Is that right?

Russell | 23 February 2022  

The 'church position' on homosexuality is that it is an 'objective moral disorder'. The psychiatric and biological position on homosexuality is that it is not deviant, and that to tell homosexuals that they sufffer from 'an objective moral disorder' is likely to do them serious harm. The state is incompetent to adjudicate questions of religious doctrine, but it is competent - and bound - to protect its citizens from serious harm. It would fail in that duty if it were to exempt religious institutions from the legal obligation banning all other citizens from inflicting such harm. Any legal restirction on the freedom of religions to teach such harmful doctrines is not then a violation of their religious freedom but a legitimate protection of the human rights of individual citizens.

Moreover, the right Frank is defending here is the right of an 'institution', not the right of an 'individual', and human rights are, by definition, individual rights. The institutional complaint is born of a refusal to review its teaching on this matter in the light of the relevant scientific evidence, a refusal that led it into such difficulty with Galileo.

No doubt the church personnel quoted by Frank were expressing honest views about Catholic schools practice. However, the draft legislation quoted an example, and it was consistent with the express 'new evangelisation' policy of at least one diocese in Australia, of a Catholic primary school requiring all its staff to be committed Catholics in order to secure the purpose of the school. The selection of staff on this criterion would be permitted by the proposed Bill provided it was specified in the school's Mission Statement. Thus, the Mission Statement provision in the Bill could justifably be seen not as the benign and fair device for protecting reasonable practices it is claimed to be, but rather as an invitation for conservative Catholic authorities to write their own tickets in determining the religious criteria for selecting school staff.

The entire Bill should be seen as a proposal for protecting institutional rights to discriminate masquerading as a protection of individual human rights.

Michael Leahy | 23 February 2022  
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Michel Leahy's comment is perceptive about certain agendas. They are largely reflective of an obsession with sexual anomaly.

I have never been able to figure out the semantics of "objective moral disorder", and so far have failed to read a compelling, logically well formed, exposition.

I can only guess that the underlying thesis is that the so-called natural law is assumed to be a subset of the moral law. Therefore, any use of sex other than that for the "self-evident" teleology of procreation, must be objectively anomalous, thus morally wrong.

I am a follower of Galileo both in calling and faith. It is part of a physicist's formation to come to understand that the laws of nature are neither dogmatically immutable nor morally weighted nor, much less, prescriptive as if promulgated. And the regularities within physics, always subject to revision, are far more precisely specifiable than the essentially statistical laws of evolutionary, and certainly of human, behaviour.

If evolution has brought about sexual dimorphism for species vigour ("increase and multiply"), by what logic does that observational fact decree that sexual activity can only be engaged for procreation? It would be news to the bonobos, unless God's providence for Nature has brought them about to be objectively disordered in their social transactions, which would seem a tad perverse.

Moreover, if humanity were (one hopes and prays) being refined as an evolutionary work in progress, how can natural laws applying to persons now be considered immutable dogmas for the future? As if human living were a phenomenon frozen in amber, like some primordial beetle.

Fred Green | 23 February 2022  

‘I am a follower of Galileo both in calling and faith. It is part of a physicist's formation to come to understand that the laws of nature are neither dogmatically immutable nor morally weighted nor, much less, prescriptive as if promulgated.’

The Galileo case is an example of scrupulosity, an aberration, known to Tradition, of trying to be overly protective of God. The secular organisation of church officials isn’t immune from secular or scientific mistake, be it going with the crowd in years past and insulating church properties with that wonderful light and pliable material, asbestos, or, speaking of a country where asbestos is still permitted, allowing the Chinese Communist Party some say in who becomes a bishop.

‘the laws of nature are neither dogmatically immutable nor morally weighted’

2 problems here, factual and definitional.

Factually, this statement makes as much sense as saying, ‘Dogs are neither dogmatically immutable nor morally weighted.’ We shoot pit bulls that bite more than they should have chewed and some moralists want to ban certain breeds.

A dog is a law of nature. It is a particular manifestation of Nature as well as a system of regularities typically observed of that manifestation.

Definitionally, laws of nature, being empirical, reside in a different intellectual domain to the normative where dogma, doctrine and various forms of subjective evaluation reside. That humans can digest flesh and vegetable is an empiricism. That humans should eat vegetables in preference to meat for environmental reasons, or even to reprise the eating habits in the Garden of Eden, is a norm.

Even atheists have contestable norms, out of convenience or self-preservation, which they impose on Nature, which makes atheism a quasi-religion.

roy chen yee | 24 February 2022  

The church's moral judgment that homosexual relationships are 'objectively morally disordered' depends on the psychatric presupposition that they are deviant, and the biological presupposition that they are not normal. The evidence I referred to in my second post shows that both these presuppositions have been repudiated by these sciences. The empirical foundation for the church's teaching have thus been removed, the teaching itself should logically be revised.

Michael Leahy | 25 February 2022  

‘The church's moral judgment that homosexual relationships are 'objectively morally disordered' depends on the psychiatric presupposition that they are deviant, and the biological presupposition that they are not normal. The evidence I referred to in my second post shows that both these presuppositions have been repudiated by these sciences.’

Before anything was created, there was a system of principles because a bodiless God is a system of logical (ie., defensible) thought. The physical intricacies and complexities of the natural world are simply the visible practices of principle and, since the Fall, of practices contrary to principle.

The domestic happiness of a family unit headed by a homosexual couple depends on stripping a child of being raised in one of its genetic legacies by turning the natural father or mother into a stranger, usually with the abandoning parent’s wholehearted consent, an odd behaviour for a parent. The child isn’t guaranteed to share the family space with genetic replicas (or close to genetic replicas) of itself, ie., of having real siblings, as opposed to several step-siblings, each ‘step’ differently parented. So, we have families where none of the children are fully related.

The principle in a family of genetic unity is imperilled or discarded as a matter of course in ‘homosexual’ families, but the unravelling that led to this was the normalisation of divorce among heterosexuals. Both are examples of objective moral disorder and social deviance, although divorce is camouflaged by the fact that it has been normalising for a very long time, going back, in Judaeo-Christian culture, to Moses.

Rapidly normalising also is the practice, soon to become, if not already, a counter-principle, that intimate contact with the faecal matter of a sexual partner is an unremarkable feature of deriving sexual pleasure. If you accept that humans are creatures made in the image and likeness of God, what is normalising here is a counter-principle that sodomy is not a buffoonish affectation simply unworthy of human dignity.

What can science say about aesthetics? It can’t even tell you why you should stop your child from picking his nose and eating the snot. But the principle of innate dignity derived from being made in the image and likeness of God can.

roy chen yee | 26 February 2022  

"The Galileo case is an example of scrupulosity, an aberration, known to Tradition, of trying to be overly protective of God" ! William of Ockham would probably have settled for a simpler explanation: that of closed minds uncomfortable with the notion that they might be wrong and unwilling to have others see that they might be wrong. The Church doesn't have a monopoly on this weakness, it's apparent in many organisations.

Ginger Meggs | 03 March 2022  

Ginger Meggs: 'simpler explanation'

There’s simple and there’s true, as illustrated by the traditional four sins (or sin-types) which ‘çry to Heaven for vengeance’. Some explanations are very simple, that homosexual practice, for instance, is an intrinsic evil (as William of Ockham, being a churchman, could possibly have believed). However, there are not a few religious liberals who would say that the truth isn’t so ‘simple’, while ignoring the logical ramifications which actually make that a very simple truth.

Galileo reached the correct conclusion from the wrong premise. He believed that Earth rotated because the water in the oceans moved. However, he did not explain why the coffee (or whatever) in his cup did not do the same. He was dismissive towards Kepler who had surmised that the moon was responsible for the tides. The simpler explanation is that, with the retrospection available to hindsight, the Church was correct not to be taken in by Galileo because he had simply not made his case. He was right for the wrong reason. If they had been taken in, people seeking to undermine the Church’s authority today would use the weapon that the Church believed that tides were caused by the motion of the Earth.

We still have people claiming to be right for the wrong reason: without knowing why God is a man, they insist that woman can be Catholic priests; without knowing why water is indispensable to baptism, they insist that the ritual can be validated even if parts of it are missing or deformed.

William of Ockham did not believe in infallibility. However, he also believed that the Church could be said to exist at the end of Time even if there was only one Christian left in the whole world upon Jesus’ return. One might ask how that could be so if the one Christian remaining could not be certain that at least one of his beliefs about Christianity, that God is a Trinity, or it is Christ who baptises, or that the Devil exists as a person and not merely as a symbol, as once not believed by Father Sosa and still not believed by one of our friends here, are infallible truths.

There's simple, which is sometimes (but not always) true, and there's true, which is sometimes (but not always) simple.

roy chen yee | 07 March 2022  

‘protecting institutional rights to discriminate masquerading as a protection of individual human rights.’

The shielding of individual investors from ruin by the institution of limited liability in the form of an artificial person called a corporation is an example of an institution being used to empower individuals. States are artificial persons created to form a sufficient mass to protect individuals from their neighbours and from territorial outsiders.

Institutions are created to protect and empower the individuals which constitute it.

roy chen yee | 24 February 2022  

Frank, you point out that, in the words of the President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, “Catholic schools do not use the exemptions in the Sex Discrimination Act to expel or otherwise discriminate against students on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.” Most principals do “have a strong moral compass in relation to the treatment of secondary students” (Board Director of Secondary Principals Australia). First, that does not mean that legislation should protect such discriminatory behaviour. Secondly, the real issue of concern is the obligation on religious schools to teach the doctrine of their religion and the proposed legislative protection for such teaching. You support a proposition that it should not be unlawful “to engage in teaching activity . . . in good faith in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of a particular religion or creed . . .”. In essence, religious schools would be protected in teaching any doctrine of their religion, even if such doctrine is inherently harmful to society, e.g. that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered” (Catholic Catechism n. 2357), or perhaps some religion might teach that women are inferior to men, or that left-handed people are sinister. Such teachings are objectively wrong, are harmful to society, and do great damage to children who are the subject of such teaching. The law should condemn such anti-social teachings, not protect them.

Peter Johnstone | 23 February 2022  

Quite appreciate the efforts of your resident cartoonist,however Id like to see him target other political figures than those on the conservative side -I am sure that there are others on the political spectrum that are worthy of his arrows. Could I suggest the Greens, Clive Palmer and the Labor Party as a rich hunting ground for his pen. It would make a nice change if nothing else!

Terence O'Shea | 23 February 2022  

Sitting on the fence can be very uncomfortable but achieves little. Great change comes when people don't sit on the fence and have the courage to side with one or the other on either side thereof. Creating normality for sexual deviation regardless of its cause in an attempt to glean approval is sitting on the fence.

john frawley | 23 February 2022  
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By your definition, John. would not the use of the safe period by heterosexual couples be deviant? What also of the use of the Billings method? And what of infertile couples who have sex? The intention would clearly be, among other things, not to conceive (while allowing for the thrill of Russian Roulettte that the Vatican endorses and which evidently some couples may enjoy).

Upon what basis, in a discourse read by adults as well as in your context as a medical man, does your definition of deviancy rest? On the shape of the equipment that straight as well as gay people tryst with? If so, and speaking honestly and openly, these appear perfectly designed to consummate pleasure on both sides.

If your definition of deviance then relates solely to the denial of the procreative principle, is your definition of deviance not in breach of a major principle that defines the importance, value and sacredness of the sexual act between two persons, viz. that of consummation?

Would you not also have to review your remarks, as a consideration of personal and professional ethical consistency, about what constitutes the 'norm' in a world in which veterinary scientists commonly report same-sex coupling?

Michael Furtado | 07 March 2022  

Michael Leahy and Peter Johnston. Please quote the evidence that homosexual acts are not sexual deviance and are not" objectively wrong". Such verification has eluded scientific research for at least the last 70 years. The fact that homosexual practice is fundamentally contrary to God's plan for the continuing creation of the human race does not mean that discrimination against such persons is justifiable any more than it is justifiable to discriminate against those with other disordered aspects of development.

john frawley | 23 February 2022  
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In the last fifty years, there has been an evolution in both the scientific and theological understanding of human sexuality. In Australia on October 15, 1973, the Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists Federal Council declared that homosexuality was not an illness. In its 2013 Edition, the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) no longer defined homsexuality as a mental disorder. Recent works in biology such as Bruce Bagemihl's BIOLOGICAL EXUBERANCE: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity, (Stonewall Inn Editions, St. Martin's Press, Chicago, 2020), report sexual diversity in the animal as well as the human world. The evolution of science has thus overthrown the empirical assumptions about human sexuality upon which the Church's moral teaching previously relied.

The teaching of this Catholic doctrine in schools has the potential to do, and actually does, serious harm to non-heterosexual students evidenced even in suicidal tendencies. The teaching itself is therefore discriminatory, and seriously so.

Michael Leahy | 24 February 2022  

Yes ML these days the only students with any rights are LGBTQI. Homosexuality means same sex attracted. Eighty percent of adult religious attacks on children are senior clergy on boys. And the clergy blame the boys. Oh he tempted me! Oh he should be permitted to express his natural sexual curiosity! Catholic same sex boarding schools and orphanages should be abandoned. And what do the hierarchy do? Oh we will pray about it. My My!
Bring out the ropes and millstones!

Francis Armstrong | 25 February 2022  

Michael Leahy. True! There has been much research done into sexuality in the last 50 years but not all applies to the full range of sexual variation and statistics for the whole do not necessarily apply to the individual components of that whole particularly if the whole is not homogeneous as implied by the LGBTIQ+ grouping. For example, in utero abnormalities of development can lead to external abnormalities in external genitalia which may lead to psychological stress for the person but do not affect "sexual orientation". Transgender is not equivalent to homosexuality but is associated with pathological abnormalities in physiology developed in utero (just as severe congenital abnormality of the heart, for instance, can occur in utero) as a result of disease (eg, German measles) in the mother. Homosexuality research has not, however, shown homosexualit to be inherited nor due to disease in the mother in utero and cannot as yet be meaningfully included in the HGBTIQ+ basket of sexual orientation disorders. Research suggests that homosexuality as opposed to the others might more likely be acquired through environmental influences rather than tangibly identifiable hereditary or in utero failure of development. Whatever the science, however, morality is not attached to theory but to practice in all things which means that some homosexuals (like some heterosexuals) are very moral human beings in practice who should not be vilified because of orientation and some are not. The same applies to homosexuals amoral in their practices as applies to heterosexuals amoral in theirs. The LGBTIQ+ community would do itself a great service and reduce discrimination if it were to stop proclaiming its various preferred means of sexual gratification to the world at large in cacophonic clamour.

john frawley | 25 February 2022  
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John Frawley states: 'Research suggests that homosexuality .... might more likely be acquired through environmental influences rather than tangibly identifiable hereditary or in utero failure of development.' This is a contestable proposition on John's part, as I will show.

John then says that homosexual behaviour is a matter of moral choice, since morality doesn't depend on science for its provenance.

John's right: heterosexuals and homosexuals do not HAVE to engage in sexual acts simply because of our orientation. That is surely beside the point as this is not all that morality teaches.

The morality of an action is determined by considerations of culture, education, freedom of choice and power and agency in decision-making.

Thus, in applying morality to sexual behaviour the Church draws no distinction between the virtues to be practiced by married persons and others, married or otherwise, who must be chaste.

Since the freedom to choose is critical to assessing the morality or otherwise of an action, John cannot entirely dismiss the accompanying article which supports the view that homosexuality is biologically driven.

If biological factors drive homosexuality, as the following article shows, homosexual behaviour cannot be blandly attributed to matters of choice, except perhaps for heterosexuals.


Michael Furtado | 07 March 2022  

Frank you'd have to wonder why we always have to reinvent the wheel. In 1948 Australia was instrumental in assisting to draft the UDHR. Article 18 states:
"This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his/her choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his/her religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching."
Now there exists a plethora of legislative overlaps all concerned with treating the LGBTQI community with kid gloves. The prohibition of gay conversion practices ably led by that courageous wizard Dan Andrews, has now filtered into several other states. It seems the LGBTQI sector of voters have far more rights than anyone else mainly based on the squeaky wheel syndrome.
Gender fluidity (whatever that is) now replaces engine oil in the sump. Religious freedoms are whittled away by eager politicians desperate to secure every last vote.
I propose we also protect religious heretics, Satanists and the black mass: "as early Christianity became more established and its influence began to spread, the early Church Fathers began to describe a few heretical groups practicing their own versions of Masses. Some of these rituals were of a sexual nature.The fourth-century AD heresiologist Epiphanius of Salamis, for instance, claims that a libertine Gnostic sect known as the Borborites engaged in a version of the Eucharist in which they would smear their hands with menstrual blood and semen and consume them as the blood and body of Christ respectively. He also alleges that, whenever one of the women in their church was experiencing her period, they would take her menstrual blood and everyone in the church would eat it as part of a sacred ritual. (Wikipedia).

Francis Armstrong | 25 February 2022  

Thanks Frank. Such a vexed, divisive issue.
As a gay man I have had over the years had LGBT friends who are teachers in private schools. In social-public company they are generally very circumspect in case they are professionally outed by a staff or students who may see them. I do know some who have been fired because of their sexuality.
These people at work follow the ethos laid out for their employers and yet they can be hounded during their own non-working times... ultimately for what they do in bed. The rest of us would not toleratethis.
This situation is made the messier because these same LGBT staff could provide guidance and roll models to such beleaguered LGBT students. Remember some one in three youth suicides are due to matters relating to sexuality.
This is a moral-sexual minefield. Where does the pure, unconditional love of God intersect with scripture and the Church’s pronouncement, often cultural bound, in LGBT recognition, respect and love?
It has been suggested the Church needs an Ecumenical Council on sex and sexuality. It is just so desperately need.

Ivan Tchernegovski | 26 February 2022  
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Ivan, if the figures you produce of "some one in three" youth suicides being due to matters relating to sexuality are correct, perhaps what we need to address as a society is the inordinate weight attached to self-definition and self-worth by sexuality only, re-situating these aspects of identity within the context of God's creative love and purpose - a very different message from what dominates current media presentations of personhood and dignity.
Within the Church, since the issue of sexuality has been submitted internationally in Synodal consultation process, I'd think it most appropriately addressed in that forum.

John RD | 27 February 2022  

Ivan, if only the arguments for each case could be defined to encompass the minds or actions of all individuals. I think I can appreciate the bonhomie intended that all students and teachers are welcomed within a campus but recently a gay activist made a compelling appeal that frightened me with their proposition. I don't consider myself a prude, but perhaps it was their inference that youth in the discovery of their sexuality would probably engage in their first flirtations at the school premises; their argument was the school must provide a safe and nurturing place for this behavior, including LGBT, because of LGBT. If I remember correctly, few "religious" schools were ever advocating their permissive stance on heterosexual "love-ins" on campus or even for extra-curricular activies... so the proposition that schools must now modify their stance BECAUSE vulnerable students could take advantage of the safe environment provided rings some alarm bells. Heirarchy of Controls: Eliminate the risk. Of course young people will engage in various ways but I don't follow that the school administration should need to provide any allowances for behavior which is deplored in their charter and alien to the intended environment. It seems as irresponsible as a 14 year old with a tongue-stud...

ray | 28 February 2022  

Hi Ray. I would say the example you quoted was a rear exception to the rule. I agree with you that it would very disconcerting to observe this.
What I am talking about is not the performing of sexual acts in inappropriate places but the mere fact of being and identifying as a LGBT person and being unashamed, honest and open about it if one chooses. This is not something heterosexual people have to ever justify and worry about.
As I have stated the LGBT teachers I have known take seriously and abide by the ethical ethos of their work places when they are working.

Ivan Tchernegovski | 01 March 2022  

Hello Ivan. I agree that, by definition, "temporary band aids" are no real solution. However, since the issue of human sexuality transcends individual cultures, and, at least for the Christian religion has
created, intrinsic connection with God, broad consultation and input presented for discernment
such as that - in principle - facilitated by Synodal process, would seem to be desirable.

John RD | 04 March 2022  

Hi, John. I do not think a Synodal consultation process goes deep enough. When one considers all the issues related to sex and sexuality that besiege our Church like birth control, abortion, priestly celibacy, clerical paedophilia and clerical abuse of nuns we are not looking for temporary band aids.

Ivan Tchernegovski | 01 March 2022  

The only real solution to this is to abolish all anti-discrimination laws other than those preserving merit in the civil service. That does not make it right to be a bigot, and others will remain free to criticise, and if they wish, boycott, the bigot. The harm of a prohibition can be greater than the wrong supposedly being stopped, just as Aquinas supported the legality of prostitution.

Bob | 27 February 2022  
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That could be a recipe for entrenched prejudices to raise their ugly heads again with no redress for grave injustices. Whose to decide what is civil or is merit? I don't think women or First Nations people would like your approach.

Ivan Tchernegovski | 01 March 2022  

"The harm of prohibition can be greater than the wrong [harm] supposedly being stopped." So true, Bob. Prohibition in the USA in the 1920s/30s caused enormous harm. I reckon that when we were kids at school we would have been a lot better behaved had there not been so rules to be broken!

john frawley | 28 February 2022  
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That's the crux of the issue. Do religious institutions have a right to discriminate especially what a person does outside working hours or do LGBT people have a right to their social lives free of discrimination.
I think LGBT experience has been swept up under the carpet in the good old days. What a horror as a youth, to realise I was gay... isolated and no one to talk to... plagued in guilt, fear and sinful shame.

Ivan Tchernegovski | 01 March 2022  

‘Do religious institutions have a right to discriminate especially what a person does outside working hours’

Yes, they have a right to discriminate because their purpose is to teach what you can’t be outside working hours.

‘do LGBT people have a right to their social lives free of discrimination.’

Only if they don’t discriminate against the raison détre of their employer. LGBT and (IQ plus ‘*’) – if you don’t mind, don’t shade the extent, and extensibility, of the syndrome – are perfectly free to enter universities, acquire advanced degrees in theoretical physics and get high-paying jobs manufacturing nuclear armaments. Not. A. Problem.

‘plagued in guilt, fear and sinful shame.’

Why? Having an LGBTIQ* condition is like being dumped upon with spinal bifida or Tourette’s or any number of nuisances that a human can fall prey to, sometimes for the most esoteric of reasons such as in the case of Job. If the condition can’t be removed, it simply has to be endured, but it can’t be celebrated. Job tried to complain and got a lecture. Complain to God, endure, move on.

And stay in the closet because some Jobean inconveniences do have a cultural stigma that makes empathy from others harder to get, as Job himself found. Anyway, even Jesus didn't reveal himself fully to others. The Muslims have taqqiya and the Jesuits have 'mental reservation'. So, prudence is fine.

roy chen yee | 08 March 2022  

I think religious rights are fundamental to a democarcy. What is not fundamental is the state supporting those rights through public financing and this is particularly the case in the area of health, education and aged care. The primary effect of the public financing is to push up the costs for everyone by creating a competition between the buyers of services like teachers and nurses. It also inflates land values through the same process. It creates artificial competition where none would exist otherwise. The actholic school system in Victoria has been responsible for untold misery over the decades and no good they ever do could possibly make up for this.

Kevin V Russell | 07 March 2022  

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