Australian churches have sent a letter to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese appealing against any efforts to remove protections for faith-based schools.

The Australian government recently released the Australian Law Reform Commission’s (ALRC) final report which recommended the removal of current exemptions in the Sex Discrimination Act (1984) that enable faith-based schools to  determine the employment and enrolment of staff and students according to their faith.

The ALRC recommended repealing the section of the Sex Discrimination Act which allows religious schools to discriminate against people on the basis of their sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex status, marital or relationship status.

It proposed that religious institutions should only be allowed to preference staff based on their religious beliefs if it is “reasonably necessary” and “proportionate” to the aim of maintaining a community of faith and does not breach sex discrimination laws.

The letter from the faith leaders was reported by The Australian newspaper and urged the prime minister to honor his election commitment and “maintain the right of religious educational institutions to preference people of their own faith, and not to compromise this to secure the support of the Greens.”

The prime minister is the leader of the Australian Labor Party (ALP), and his been in power since. 2022.

Catholic signatories to the letter include National Catholic Education Commission executive director Jacinta Collins, Melbourne Archbishop Peter A Comensoli, Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher, Melkite Bishop Robert Rabbat, Maronite Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay, Chaldean Bishop Amel Nona and Catholic Schools NSW chief executive Dallas McInerney.

In a separate note, Collins said the current law enables Catholic, and other faith-based, schools to preference the employment and enrolment of staff and students according to their faith.

“The recommendations would severely limit the ability of our schools to operate and teach according to our ethos and are at odds with the Inquiry’s terms of reference, and the desire of families to choose a faith-based school for their children,” she said.

“The ALRC has critically neglected the Attorney General’s third term of reference to ensure that religious schools can ‘continue to build a community of faith by giving preference, in good faith, to persons of the same religion as the educational institution in the selection of staff’,” Collins continued.

“While the ALRC’s recommendations are unsurprising given the draft report last year, it is disappointing that they overlook the concerns of religious leaders, and the high regard parents hold for the ethos and nature of their schools,” she said.

Collins noted Albanese has said the government will only proceed with changes to legislation with the bi-partisan support of the opposition.

“The National Catholic Education Commission will continue to advocate for the rights of parents and our schools. Any path forward must include a broad community and political consensus that protects religious freedom and respects the rights of Australian families to educate their children according to their faith,” she said.

She aid the National Catholic Education Commission’s strategic priorities for the next three years directly supports the delivery of its mission: “To promote Christ-centered education providing excellent and inclusive schooling, and ensures we have clarity and alignment of the intent and impact of our work.”