This equality bill that will destroy diversity – Alan Deidun

This equality bill that will destroy diversity – Alan Deidun

There are those who will resort to every trick in the book to silence the Church

The term ‘diversity’ is normally a byword for abundance, choice, alternatives and a plethora of other positive connotations. The positive timbre of the term extends to different contexts and domains, from the biological sciences (the safeguard of ‘biodiversity’ has become a global conservation priority) to philosophy (having a ‘diversity of views’ in society is seen as the best antidote to an authoritarian view) as well as to human rights (which advocate against discriminating towards the diverse minorities within society on the basis of sexual orientation, religion or creed, race, etc).

It is against this backdrop that the current equality bill 96/97 is being peddled by Parliamentary Secretary for Equality Rosianne Cutajar, with such a bill being bandied about as the champion of diversity, when in actual fact it’s anything but.

In fact, some of the clauses within the bill have an inherently homogenising effect, by promoting the watering down of any differences in ethos between Church and non-Church schools on these islands, thus effectively doing away with the supposedly cherished diversity in schooling, reeking of a communist, one-size-fits-all philosophy.

Perhaps two of the most maligned provisions of the equality bill concern the recruitment of educators and the relegation of their Catholic ethos to the religion class only, in Church schools.

Concerning the first issue, I heard a very fitting anecdote from a friend of mine within a similar mindset on the proposed bill. According to him, removing the discretion of Church schools to screen applicants for a post at their premises on the basis of their ethical/moral constitution is tantamount to a casino running the risk of recruiting applicants who are vehemently against gambling or to a wildlife sanctuary management organisation running the risk of recruiting a convicted arsonist.

Swinging the pendulum back from such extreme scenarios, Church schools have not shied away from employing individuals who might not be viewed as complying with the tenets of Catholic ethos, embracing diversity in views and lifestyles in a practical way. Thus, the trepidation within the movement behind the proposed equality bill is hard to fathom, especially when considering the inclusive human resources recruitment track record of Church schools. The relegation of any moral/ethical teaching to the prescribed religion class can be couched within the decades-long debate in this country concerning the role in society that the Church should take.

While the secular nature of our republic and the distinct separation between Church and state matters are cast in stone and recognised by all and sundry, the attempt at rendering the Church ever more redundant in today’s society by relegating its teachings to religious buildings and activities only betrays a lack of understanding of the Church’s mission as a key societal stakeholder, that of promoting its ethos and lifestyle model in everyday life.

“Parliamentary secretary Rosianne Cutajar would do her portfolio justice if she endeavoured to make the Equality Bill less discriminatory and more inclusive”

Given the Church’s advocacy role in contemporary society, on issues related to environmental degradation, human rights and dignity (being evident in debates on abortion, migration, drug legalisation), there are those who will resort to every trick in the book to silence it as they are uncomfortable with the message it is conveying. Church schools are just the latest battleground in such a struggle.

The merits of the argument are even easier to grasp if we limit ourselves to Church schools only. Presumably, most, if not all, parents of students attending Church schools do so since they specifically wish their offspring to be instilled in a Catholic ethos and not just on academic grounds. It’s a conscious decision and choice, and the parental faculty to decide on their children’s education will be eradicated if the equality bill gets the green light. The same proposals also avoid giving any quarter to an educator’s right to conscientious objection on the premise that this is discriminatory, paving the ground for witch-hunts of staff members deemed as incompliant and despite the fact that such a right is entrenched within the legal books of many countries and institutions.

Proponents of the ‘equality bill’ repeatedly refer to the agreement between the Holy See and the Maltese Republic on Church Schools (1991) which supposedly gave successive Maltese administrations an implicit foothold in the running of Church schools on the premise that teachers employed within such schools are being paid for by the state. In doing so, the same proponents are implicitly or explicitly oblivious to the fact that, within the same agreement, the Maltese state recognises the right of the Church to establish and direct its own schools according to their specific nature and autonomy of the organisation and that the Church was true to its end of the bargain by passing over vast tracts of land to the state.

This agreement obliges Maltese Church schools to follow the National Minimum Curriculum submitted by the education division but not to shy away from promoting the Catholic ethos. From a more mundane perspective, the state’s subvention of Church schools is limited to just the core/regular teaching staff and an additional 10 per cent payment, with parents having to financially support the engagement of assets such as counsellors, lay chaplains and inclusion coordinators among others, besides regular maintenance and upgrading works within Church school buildings.

It is inherently hypocritical to witness those who profess to be firm believers in a diversity of views, sexual orientations, religious creeds and races to concomitantly be so against a diversity in schooling on these islands. It is perhaps more sinister to witness the same paladins of human rights being so openly discriminatory against those (who are definitely not the ‘privileged few’) who consciously opt for an inclusive Catholic education for their children.

Parliamentary secretary Cutajar would do her portfolio justice if she endeavoured to make the equality bill less discriminatory and more inclusive.

Prof. Alan Deidun is Director of the International Ocean Institute – Malta Training Centre and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology (London)

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece


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