Equality laws won’t let church schools teach ‘Catholic’ biology or history – former minister

Tonio Borg rails against “vile attack” of equality bills that will ensure the absence of discrimination in several sectors

Tonio Borg
Tonio Borg

The former Nationalist minister who wanted to entrench the crime of abortion in the Maltese Constitution, has protested that equality bills being debated in Parliament, claiming they prevent Church schools from advancing lessons on the beginning of life in biology or the definition of traditional marriage.

Tonio Borg, a former European Commissioner, said “the vile attack” of the equality bills to ensure the absence of discrimination in several sectors, were hostile to Church schools.

“There is no provision for conscientious objection, but worse there is no provision for the right of Churches to run their own schools according to their own ethos,” he wrote in The Times.

While the bills allow faith-schools to freely run the teaching of religion, Borg claims the equality laws could prevent them from advancing a Catholic vision of their subjects.

“What would happen if the Church schools – apart from the religious lessons – teach Catholic thinking on liberty, the commencement of life in biology, the Catholic vision of the development of historical  events, the definition of traditional marriage: the bills only protect such teaching in religion… not to mention the ludicrous provision  that only religious   symbols ‘of a cultural value’ are immune from the provisions  of the bills. This means that those symbols which, though religious, are not of  cultural value, can be subjected to a plethora of legal actions by liberal lobbies who consider them as offensive to the convictions  of those  who do not have any religion at all.”

Borg insisted that interfering in a Church school’s curriculum when it comes to Catholic interpretations of history or biology was an infringement of the European Convention on Human Rights, which lays down that States must respect parents’ rights to ensure education is in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.

In 2016 the Catholic Church in Malta issued a position paper endorsed by leading lay jurists such as Judge Giovanni Bonello and Prof. Kevin Aquilina, stating that the laws would place a very broad responsibility on educational establishments and vocational training entities with no clear and definite boundaries of what would be legally prohibited or permitted.

“These establishments or entities shall be obliged not just to ensure that curricula and textbooks do not propagate discrimination (which is already a legal obligation with a wide scope and very general criteria to follow) but also to promote diversity and respect towards all persons regardless of whether they fall under any one or more of the protected characteristics (which is a legal obligation that is much wider and confusing by tying together the two principles of ‘promotion of diversity’ and ‘promotion of respect’).”

In October 2016 the Church remarked in its position paper that: “It is unfortunate that the freedom which the European Union is allowing its member states under the current Equality Directives and envisaging under the proposed Equality Treatment Directive in the implementation of the equality principle will apparently be used by the Maltese government to restrain the freedom which the Catholic Church, other Churches and other religious organisations currently have in the administration of their respective institutions.”

The Nationalist Opposition has tabled an amendment stating that the duty to provide for equality in faith-based schools “should be within the limits of their competence and ethos of such establishment or entity”.

Borg said this amendment would ensure equality and religious freedom. “The conscience  of parents, teachers and administrators, even of secular schools which, though not belonging to the Church have adopted a Catholic ethos,  should be awakened  to this hidden threat which tries to stealthily render regimented our thinking and the education of our children. If these bills are passed as they are, we shall have only ourselves  to blame if we do not  raise our voices without fear and resist their unjust intrusion with the full force of our being.”