Monday 5 November 2018
Dear Tara Community,
I am writing to clarify Tara’s position regarding the recent letter from the Heads of 34 Anglican Schools to Federal Members of Parliament regarding maintaining the right to employ staff who will support the Christian ethos of our schools.
Nothing in Tara’s purpose, mission or practice has changed in the lead-up and submission of the open letter.
- At Tara we do not enquire as to the sexuality of prospective or current employees, students or members of their family.
- At Tara we do not consider a person’s sexuality as a justiﬁcation for dismissal or expulsion.
Tara remains, and will always strive to be, a school that treasures each girl and her family, and is committed to being a Christian learning community characterised by excellence. We have exceptional teachers, administrative and support staff at Tara. We value each person’s contribution to the diversity of the Tara experience.
The purpose of the letter from the Heads of Schools has been lost. Media reporting, with its single focus on the alleged desire of Heads of Schools to dismiss and expel on the basis of sexuality, is incorrect and upsetting to say the least. Some members of the Tara community have been distressed by the implication that the school they know and love may be party to such a practice. Let me reassure you that this is not the case.
Please let me explain the context:
- The Human Rights Commission notes that Australia does not have comprehensive Commonwealth legislation that protects religious freedom or prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion or belief.
- In November 2017, Prime Minister Turnbull assembled an Expert Panel, led by the Hon Philip Ruddock, to examine whether Australian law adequately protects the human right to freedom of religion. That Panel’s report is under consideration by the Federal Government.
- The original letter from the Heads of Schools was written to highlight that the current legislative basis for providing freedom of religion for schools is clumsy. We hold that view because, for historic reasons, religious freedom is only reflected through exemptions to the Sex Discrimination Act (1984). For faith-based schools there is no effective protection under Australian law that guarantees religious freedom. As the tenets of religious freedom itself are not codified in legislation, this letter was a request for the Parliament to do so.
In the words of the Archbishop of Sydney and President of Tara School Council, the Most Rev Dr Glenn Davies from his recent Presidential Address to the Anglican Synod:
“What we have asked for is simply this: freedom of religion. It goes to the very heart of religious freedom that religious organisations should be able to operate according to their religious ethos. Anglican schools, if they are going to remain Anglican, must be able to employ staff who support the Christian values of the school.”
I hope that you can now appreciate the letter in its intended context.
In our practice, this means that:
- In their employment contract, we require all Tara staff to acknowledge that they support the Christian ethos of the School.
- We do not require all our staff to be active Christians or attend church.
As I have previously said, this means there is no change in the School’s practices.
I am thankful to those people who have sought clarification of the School’s point of view. Some members of our community have expressed deep hurt and pain. I apologise most sincerely to those who have not felt as supported as they would have desired. I welcome a discussion with any members of our School community, including our alumnae, in order to improve their experience or the experience for others. Please contact me via email.
My aim is that all students feel respected for who they are and are at all times safe and secure in this knowledge. I think it is important to reiterate: nothing has changed. Tara is a school with a long held commitment to love and care for all. The School’s values, drawn from our Christian faith are real in their expression as we seek to have all students flourish and thrive as they grow into adulthood. I remain committed to upholding these values.
Mrs Susan Middlebrook
Friday 9 November 2018
Dear Tara Community,
Late yesterday, the Archbishop of Sydney and President of Tara School Council, the Most Rev Dr Glenn Davies released a statement which apologised for the distress caused by the letter to Federal Members of Parliament in relation to religious freedom.
Archbishop Davies states that it is untenable that religious freedoms be expressed as exemptions in discrimination acts. He also confirms that he has approached the government and the opposition for an immediate bipartisan approach which would remove these exemptions and create legislation which provides a positive protection for freedom of religion.
I fully support the removal of the exemptions that relate to sexual discrimination and also support the development of legislation which guarantees religious freedom for all Australians.
I apologise once again most sincerely to all those who have not felt as supported as they would have desired and for the distress and pain that has resulted. I am also sorry for the gross misunderstanding generated by the original letter when its aim was to provide support for the right to religious freedom in Australia.
I attach the statement (PDF 108.3KB) made by Archbishop Davies for your consideration.
Mrs Susan Middlebrook