An Anglican teacher claims she was fired from her Christian school because she is gay, and more like her will lose their jobs under new laws.
The school on Sydney’s northern beaches allegedly dismissed English teacher Stephanie Lentz due to her sexuality 10 months ago.
Hours after Prime Minister Scott Morrison introduced a religious discrimination bill to parliament, Ms Lentz hit out on ABC’s Q+A program.
English teacher Stephanie Lentz (pictured centre) says she was fired from her Christian school for being gay
‘I really enjoyed the colleagues and the relationships with students, but in January this year the school fired me. And they fired me because I’m gay,’ she said.
‘They fired me because they disagreed with me that you can be Christian and also live true to the biological realities of your sexuality or gender.’
The law Mr Morrison introduced seeks to exempt Australians who make ‘statements of belief’ from existing discrimination laws, but only if those statements do not ‘threaten, intimidate, harass or vilify a person or group’.
The prime minister quoted Ephesians Chapter 4 from the Bible on the floor of Federal Parliament on Thursday to justify the bill.
‘Religion and faith is also about humility and vulnerability. It is about love. It is about compassion. It is about speaking the truth in love, as the scriptures say,’ he said.
North Sydney Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman, who is gay, said he was concerned about loopholes.
‘The detail that I’m keen to have clarified is whether by allowing schools to put in place policies that can guide their employment,’ he said.
‘Whether there are any loopholes that could see effectively backdoor ways of setting rules in relation to hiring and firing teachers based on their sexuality or other personal attributes.’
Anglican Pastor Michael Jensen (pictured) replied ‘It’s complicated’ when asked how situations such as Ms Lentz’s could be resolved without jobs being lost under proposed new legislation
Q+A host Stan Grant asked Ms Lentz if she was fired ‘because you were gay or because you could no longer teach the ethos or the doctrine of that school? Had you offered to do just that?’
‘I had offered to promote the school’s ethos on sexuality,’ she replied.
‘Obviously, notwithstanding things that I believed would be harmful to the students, but I did offer to back the school’s position on a lot of things.’
She claims the school – whose exact location she did not reveal – wasn’t willing to discuss the matter and ‘terminated my employment because of my sexuality and my belief that it’s OK to be gay because God is cool with it’.
Her allegations sparked a heated debate on Q+A.
Anglican pastor Michael Jensen – a guest on the show – was asked how freedom of sexuality and religion could coexist and how situations such as Ms Lentz’s could be resolved without jobs being lost under the proposed new legislation.
‘It’s complicated,’ he replied. ‘What we’ve got to do in an open society is got to make room for different types of view, different types of expression.’
Liberal MP for North Sydney Trent Zimmerman wants details of a proposed new law ‘clarified’
Under the proposed legislation, religious schools and organisations would be allowed to give preference to and prioritise the employment of people from the same faith.
The institutions would need to have a clear policy explaining how their religious views would be enforced.
Mr Jensen defended the right for religious institutions to employ who they want to.
What does the religious discrimination bill do?
* It prohibits discrimination on the basis of someone’s religious beliefs across a wide range of areas including employment, education, the provision of goods, and access to facilities and services.
* It overwrites state legislation, including proposed Victorian laws to limit when schools and organisations can preference hiring people according to faith.
* Religious schools must make these kinds of policies available publicly.
* The bill includes a ‘statement of belief’ clause to protect people who communicate genuinely held religious views.
* Malicious statements or those considered by a reasonable person to threaten, intimidate, harass or vilify people or groups of people are not covered
* The bill does not affect the operation of other federal anti-discrimination legislation or allow discrimination on the basis of currently protected attributes.
* Accompanying amendments establish a standalone religious discrimination commissioner under the Australian Human Rights Commission.
* It is not discriminatory for a religious primary school to require all of its staff and students to practice its faith, should this be necessary ‘to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of people of that religion’.
* A Catholic holiday camp, for example, can prohibit non-Christian groups from hiring its accommodation or facilities if this is a publicly stated policy in good faith and in line with the religion’s doctrines, tenets, beliefs and teachings. But should the camp accept an application from a Protestant group, it would be unlawful to restrict that group’s access to parts of that facility.
‘The current legislation that’s before Parliament deals with belief,’ he said.
‘It deals specifically with an issue of whether you sign up to a belief statement or not, rather than saying anything about someone’s identity or their behaviour,’ he said.
He said the existence of ‘difficult cases’ should not prevent ‘religious groups and religious institutions to be able to employ who they want to employ reasonably and with clarity about their doctrinal statements and positions’.
Ms Lentz said some Christians no longer believed she ‘belonged’ with them there because of her sexuality.
Pastor Jensen said that is ‘an issue for the Christian community to talk about and for you to contribute to that particular theological debate’.
NSW MP Jason Falinski – in whose electorate of Mackellar is where the school that allegedly fired Ms Lentz is located – said no one should have to go through being sacked for their sexuality.
‘The role of any government is to ensure that (freedoms) are protected because if our nation is to mean anything, people need to be free to express themselves within that context,’ he said.
Another guest on the show, ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr, who is gay, said Ms Lentz’s situation was ‘terrible’ and she should move to teach in Canberra.
‘You are really welcome in our city. We will value you for who you are and the wonderful professional skills you could bring to our education system,’ he said.
A controversial element of the proposed legislation, the so-called ‘Folau clause’, was cut from the bill that was tabled in parliament.
In 2019, Israel Folau was sacked by Rugby Australia for anti-gay social media posts, the last of which said homosexuals, drunks, adulterers, thieves, liars, fornicators, atheists and idolaters were all bound for Hell.
Folau and RA came to a settlement and he has not played rugby union in Australia since.
Q+A guest Melinda Cilento, chief executive of the Committee for Economic Development of Australia, was asked how businesses would deal with religious views aired in the workplace environment if the bill passed the Senate.
‘You’re already seeing businesses and business groups reflecting they’re not sure how this plays out and how they’re going to deal with this and what the implications for them are as they deal with the laws and the regulations of this,’ she said.