This blog first appeared in Malta Today
What are being described as two “radical” equality Bills are set to be tabled in Parliament. One of them is pretty straightforward and makes sense as it will be making it illegal for anyone to be discriminated against and refused services because of sexual orientation or age (discrimination because of gender and race are already illegal). The Bill will also expand the concept of discrimination to include political views and physical characteristics.
However on closer reading, this Bill is of great concern to Church schools which, according to a press conference given by Civil Liberties Minister Helena Dalli, will not be allowed to turn potential teachers down because they are non-Catholics.
Ms Dalli confirmed that “the government had held long discussions with the Church before eventually deciding to include that practice as legally discrminatory.”
According to the report in Malta Today, the Malta Union of Teachers has repeatedly flagged concerns that Church schools are turning down potential teachers because they are not Catholics, or are married to non-Catholics.
However, in a position paper on the Bill, the Church had argued that “Catholic schools are bound to nourish and promote a Christian spirit in the mind and conduct of their students. They can do this especially by creating and maintaining a Christian ethos within their environment. Without this provision, the Church, for example, can be forced to employ educators who conduct public campaigns against some aspects of its teaching.”
This is one issue where I find myself in agreement with the Church’s argument as it is making quite a valid point. In fact, for the life of me, I cannot understand why someone who is non-Catholic would want to work in an institution which goes diametrically against their own beliefs or non-beliefs.
If you are an atheist or non-Catholic or even a lapsed Catholic who does not live your life according to the Catholic religion, and do not agree with the Church’s teachings on a number of issues, I find it very hard to understand how you can just check all this at the door every morning when you go to work. And let us not forget this is not just a desk job, but a job where you will be facing a classroom of students whose parents have enrolled them at this specific school for this very reason. Some have argued that if one is teaching a subject like Math or English, religion does not come into it, but I beg to differ. Every educational institution has its own ethos, and whether they are aware of it or not, every single teacher is transmitting their own value system to a classroom of impressionable kids every time they talk to them. Even between one mathematical sum and another there may be occasions when other possibly controversial topics are bound to come up in a classroom, and what is a teacher whose personal views do not tally with that of the Church going to do? Will he/she lie about their beliefs, change the subject, tell the students they do not wish to discuss it?
I think the Church’s position paper was especially correct when it pointed out that there are educators who may be conducting public campaigns which go contrary to its teachings. Even worse are those who are constantly bashing the Church every chance they get but then hypocritically send their kids to a Church school or, as in this case, expect to be chosen as a candidate for a vacant teaching post. Sometimes the hostility and antagonism against the Church verges on the obsessive, which is pretty ironic coming from those who profess to have turned their back on the Catholic religion. If a religion is no longer of any real relevance to your life, I don’t see why you should persist in going on and on against it at every juncture. Just close that chapter and move on.
To me it’s just simple logic that the teaching staff at Church schools are on board with the Catholic ethos even when they are not at work. It’s the same as any other company expecting that its own employees do not undermine it or badmouth it when they are off work. After all, these days, the first thing employers check is a prospective employee’s Facebook profile, to see whether he/she is a suitable candidate who will be an asset to the company.
So while I believe in equality and fairness, I really do not agree with this issue being shoved under the umbrella of “discrimination”. How can you even be comfortable in surroundings where you are constantly reminded of what you don’t believe in? Try as I might I simply cannot get to grips with how you can separate your place of employment from your own personal likes and dislikes. The closest analogy I can think of is of a Labour supporter going to work at the PN Headquarters (even if it is just to answer the phone). Wouldn’t you agree that that would be the height of hypocrisy and positively preposterous?