Wednesday, December 29, 2021

‘Her views no longer aligned’: Anglicans defend sacking of gay teacher

The Anglican Church has defended the sacking of a gay Sydney schoolteacher this year, saying she was not terminated because of her sexuality but because she believes Christians should be able to enter same-sex relationships.

Steph Lentz was lawfully sacked in January from Covenant Christian School in Belrose, in Sydney’s north-east, after telling the school the previous year she was a lesbian – as first reported by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age in August.

In a submission last week to a parliamentary inquiry on the federal government’s Religious Discrimination Bill, the Sydney Anglican Diocese used Ms Lentz’s subsequent public remarks to justify her removal from the school.

It quoted two opinion pieces she wrote for the Herald and The Age in which she said she was sacked “because of my belief that a person can be a Christian and be gay” and acknowledged “in relation to sexuality, the school’s statement of belief and my view do not align”.

The submission’s author, the Right Reverend Michael Stead, who chairs the Anglican Diocese of Sydney’s religious freedom reference group, argued Ms Lentz was not “sacked for being gay”, and called that interpretation a “sensationalist headline”.

“Correctly understood, the teacher’s sexuality is not the key issue in this case,” he wrote.

“A heterosexual teacher who held the same theological views on sexuality and relationships, and therefore was unable to sign the statement of belief, would also have had his or her employment terminated. Conversely, there are those in the LGBTIQ+ community who self-identify as ‘celibate gay Christians’ who would be able to sign the school’s statement of belief.”

Ms Lentz is Anglican, but Covenant Christian School is non-denominational and has no connection to the Anglican Diocese of Sydney. Rev Stead said he commented on her case because it had recently received media attention.

“Ms Lentz has changed her religious beliefs, and (as she herself acknowledges) her beliefs were no longer consistent with beliefs of the school. So the issue was not about her same-sex attraction but her inability to sign the school’s statement of belief, and to teach that from a place of personal conviction,” Rev Stead told the Herald and The Age on Tuesday.

“Where a religious body has clearly set out its core doctrines in a statement of belief that is available to employees and prospective employees, it is entirely reasonable that the body should be able to require employees to endorse those beliefs.”

Ms Lentz said the statement of belief she signed did not contain any doctrine on homosexuality. She agreed a heterosexual teacher who was unable to sign up to the school’s views on sexuality was liable to be dismissed – as allegedly occurred with Victorian teacher Rachel Colvin in 2019 – but said that was “no less problematic in my view”.

Existing provisions that allow religious schools to sack or expel LGBTIQ teachers and students are not dealt with by the Religious Discrimination Bill, and have been referred for a separate legal inquiry. However, some government MPs want those provisions removed or amended as a precondition for passing the bill.

In its submission, the Anglican Diocese of Sydney explicitly supports the removal of provisions that allow religious schools to expel gay students. This is “a right that religious schools do not want, and do not use”, Rev Stead writes.

“The exemptions in the Sex Discrimination Act are too broad, and give religious bodies the right to do many things that they do not, in fact, do, and are not wanted or required to conduct their affairs in a way consistent with their religious ethos.”

The church also contends that when a religious body’s doctrine clashes with the beliefs of an individual, the religious body’s views should prevail.

To do otherwise “would lead to tyranny of the majority by many minorities, forcing a religious body to accept mutually contradictory doctrines concurrently”.

Ms Lentz said that approach was characterised by “fear and hubris” and that accepting diverse religious beliefs “could provoke a re-examination of the issues, leading to mutually beneficial progress”.


Adani's first Carmichael Mine coal export shipment imminent after years of campaigns against it

The first coal shipment from central Queensland Carmichael Mine is about to leave Australian shores after years of controversy, international media coverage and environmental campaigning against the facility.

Bravus Mining and Resources, the Australian arm of Adani, today confirmed the shipment had been assembled at the North Queensland Export Terminal in Bowen.

Bravus CEO David Boshoff celebrated the milestone, calling it a "big moment".

"From day one, the objectives of the Carmichael Project were to supply high-quality Queensland coal to nations determined to lift millions of their citizens out of energy poverty and to create local jobs and economic prosperity in Queensland communities in the process" Mr Boshoff said.

"With the support of the people of regional Queensland we have delivered on that promise."

The shipment comes amid continuing protests against the mine and follows years of fierce campaigning from environmental activists.

The Australian Conservation Foundation said the mine made "a mockery" of Australia's emissions targets.

And, locally, scuba diving guide and Whitsunday Conservation Council spokesperson Tony Fontes said he felt "despair and anger".

"Both state and federal governments supported Adani in opening the mine,and ensuring that the Great Barrier Reef is not going to survive this century" Mr Fontes said.

"[But] one would hope that in the very near future, there will not be a market for thermal coal.

"And it's unfortunate that people that are working in the industry have been misled by the government suggesting that there's a long-term future in working in thermal coal."

However, Bravus insisted Australian coal would have a role alongside renewables for decades "as part of an energy mix that delivers reliable and affordable power with reduced emissions intensity".

In 2016, the Wangan and Jagalingou people voted 294 to one in favour of an Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) with Adani. Subsequent challenges against the ILUA were dismissed in court.

Mine opponents now represent a small portion of traditional owners who, since signing the agreement, have been working with Bravus.

Bravus said the first shipment of coal would be loaded and dispatched, subject to the port's shipping schedule. It did not say when the shipment would leave or where it was going.

"The first export shipment is of a commercial scale and is going to a customer, with further details remaining commercial in confidence" it said.

The company plans to produce 10 million tonnes of coal a year from the mine, to be sold to customers in the Asia-Pacific region at 'index adjusted pricing'.


A major Queensland university has become the latest institution to introduce a Covid-19 vaccine mandate, insisting anyone attending its campuses must be fully-vaccinated from early next year

Queensland’s largest university has mandated anyone attending its campuses must be fully-vaccinated against Covid-19 from early next year, as the state continues to experience a record number of infections.

The University of Queensland has announced from February 14th 2022, anyone attending the institution’s campuses, facilities or sites must be fully vaccinated, unless they hold a valid exemption.

The institution has also issued a warning that students who do not get vaccinated could face “disciplinary” policies if they fail to comply in certain circumstances.

From early January, UQ staff and students would be requested to declare their vaccination status, which must be completed by the end of February 13th.

“UQ has a diverse community that attends our locations every day – often in close settings,” an online post from the university stated.

“An outbreak of Covid-19 would pose a significant health risk to this community and substantially impact our teaching, research and community engagement services.”

UQ is not the first Sunshine State institution to implement such a mandate for students and staff.

Earlier this month Griffith University announced it would require anyone attending its campuses to be fully vaccinated from February 18.

At the time Vice-Chancellor Professor Carolyn Evans warned students they could potentially be unable to finish their degrees unless they were vaccinated.

The UQ statement went on to say while the vaccine may not “prevent you from getting Covid-19”, it would “reduce the severity and duration of the illness, hospitalisation rates and transmission”.

“Vaccination will be a key measure for the University to minimise the impacts from the inevitable spread of Covid-19 next year,” it read.

UQ also said there were some exemptions from the mandate, including people who were under the age of 16, people performing urgent and essential health and safety work, or those responding to an emergency.

But a statement from the university also warned that students could face penalties or disciplinary actions if they failed to adhere to the direction.

“Where alternative workplace or study practices cannot be implemented, and the student is required to attend a UQ location to undertake their studies, the student may need to consider their enrolment options,” the statement read.

“A student’s failure to comply may be considered as misconduct, and may result in student disciplinary proceedings, which may, in turn, lead to penalties being imposed pursuant to UQ’s student disciplinary policies.”


Sydney Festival boycott a blunt instrument that blocks voices of dissent

This week’s fracas at the Sydney Festival over the inclusion of Decadance, a renowned dance piece in the repertoire of Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company, and the festival’s sponsorship by the Israeli embassy, has followed a familiar script.

In response to the sponsorship, some artists have now withdrawn from the festival, with Khaled Sabsabi saying he was doing so “out of solidarity with the Palestinian people and the Palestinian cause”.

Israel’s largest contemporary dance company, Batsheva is hailed as one of the most important in the world today, having developed its acclaim over the last 30 years during choreographer Ohad Naharin’s time at the helm. During these decades, the company and Naharin himself have pushed every boundary, challenged every taboo, and remain a national treasure.

Naharin’s movement language “Gaga” is world renowned and productions using the dance vocabulary are popular around the globe. Decadance itself has been performed for more than two decades.

As one of Israel’s most well regarded cultural exports, Naharin’s productions are both an obvious inclusion in global events like the Sydney Festival and a way to attract much needed funding for the arts from a local embassy. Equally, it is a hot target for supporters of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement which seeks to isolate and pressure the state of Israel because of its treatment of Palestinians.

There is nothing out of hand illegitimate – and certainly not inherently antisemitic – about a boycott of Israel. This is particularly so when the call comes from Palestinians themselves whose personal and collective experiences with the conflict trump claims they might be unfairly and disproportionately targeting Israel for opprobrium.

Stories of injustice, as well as the voices of those speaking up against that injustice, are extremely important to amplify on our stages here in Australia. As a blunt instrument which blocks access to important Israeli artists like Naharin, the BDS movement is a counterproductive tool.

I want Australians to see the beautiful art that Naharin creates, of course, but mostly I want us to get to hear his views.

Like countless other Israeli artists, Naharin is one of the most articulate, persuasive and prominent critics of 54 years of Israeli government policies in the occupied territories.

He has raised funds for leading civil rights organisation the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and participated in public demonstrations for Breaking the Silence, an organisation of military veterans who have taken it upon themselves to persuade Israelis of the price paid for the continuing occupation.

Which brings us to the deep irony of what’s happening now. In speaking out against the occupation he “earned” a spot in a despicable McCarthyist campaign peddled by Israel’s ultra-nationalist right-wing and politicians against progressive artists.

Other Israeli icons like Amos Oz and David Grossman were on that list, as was singer Achinoam Nini, a Jewish-Israeli artist known for her stirring Eurovision collaboration with Palestinian Mira Awad and her broader activism for Jewish-Arab equality.

Five years ago, the organisation I run, the New Israel Fund (NIF), brought Nini to perform in Australia where her performances were protested by right-wing Jewish groups because of her peace and coexistence work, while the BDS movement continues to consider her problematic as an Israeli singer and musician.

Platforming these anti-occupation activists and their art can be a very effective tool to help Israelis and others around the world who hold attachments to the place and its people understand the injustice of the occupation.

A cultural boycott which targets them – either directly or by opposing those who fund them – shrinks the discourse, limits the access that influential allies of Palestinians have to the public square, and reduces the pressure within Israel to take serious steps to end the conflict.

Given how much the Israeli government’s policies conflict with Naharin’s own political positions, a meaningful act of subversion could be to play up that divergence.

Little would frustrate the right-wing pro-Israel lobby more than flipping the story into a discussion about how the shining lights of Israeli society – the products of which Israelis are most proud to showcase to the world, to prove itself a worthy member of the family of Western democratic nations – are also the most damning critics of the deep, dark occupation-shaped hole the country is in.

Art is always deeply political and should remain so. Responses which claim it shouldn’t be, hinting that antisemitism is at play, or which use Israel’s new relationships with human rights abusing Gulf dictatorships as a point of reference, do not positively contribute to the discourse around Israel-Palestine or provide a constructive environment for its resolution.

At the New Israel Fund our theory of change – to realise our mission of equality and justice for all – hinges on strategic, impactful investment in civil society organisations at the forefront of the campaign for Palestinian human rights and the realisation of Israel’s founding vision as a liberal democracy.

Success in those efforts will only come when more Israelis realise the toll that half a century of government policies continue to have on Palestinians, and how much they contribute to the degradation of democratic values, norms and institutions inside Israel.

There is a place for pressure on Israelis and their institutions to bring about change. People like Ohad Naharin have a big role to play in applying that pressure at home and abroad – but they most definitely should not be its targets.




No comments: