Jewish schools react to proposed law | AJN

LEGISLATION TO PROTECT LGBTQI+ TEACHERS

Jewish schools react to proposed law

By CARLY DOUGLAS
December 2, 2021, 1:00 pm 

PROPOSED legislation that would prohibit religious schools in Victoria from firing or refusing to hire teachers based on gender and sexual identity has been met with a mixed reaction from within the Jewish community.

The Andrews’ government bill, introduced to Parliament in October, seeks to protect LGBTQI+ Victorians’ right to work in faith-based schools.

Last month, a group of religious leaders from varying faiths sent an open letter to Victoria’s Attorney-General, Jaclyn Symes, opposing the legislation, stating that it “unfairly targets religious bodies and educational institutes”.

Among the signatories was Rabbi Shimon Cowen from the Institute for Judaism and Civilisation. He told The AJN that the legislation is “an incredible invasion of religious life,” accusing the state government of attempting to “edit Judaism”.

He called politicians who support it “hypocrites,” noting that parliamentarians are allowed to discriminate based on political views and activity when it comes to the staffing of their office.

But most Jewish schools were generally more supportive.

Bialik College principal Jeremy Stowe-Lindner, who proudly recalled that his was the first school in Australia to sign up to the Marriage Equality campaign, told The AJN, “We are all created equally and I strongly encourage the law to support this, and prevent discrimination.”

Without it, he reflected, “Future generations would look at us with the same incredulity that we hold when we consider those who opposed the emancipation of slaves, universal suffrage or civil rights.”

The King David School principal Marc Light concurred, stating, “We oppose any legislation that discriminates against people based on their gender or sexual identity.”

He added, “It is important that LGBTQI+ students get the message that they are not alienated, excluded or rejected on the basis of their identity.”

Helen Greenberg, principal at Sholem Aleichem College, said, “We strongly embrace any changes that allow Victorians to continue to be free to live and work free from discrimination.”

Leibler Yavneh College principal Cherylyn Skewes agreed, noting, “Our view is clear. No staff member should be subject to discrimination or termination on the basis of their sexual identity.”

Noting that the legalisation would remove the right of schools to sack a staff member because of their sexuality, Mount Scopus Memorial College principal Rabbi James Kennard said, “Since that would never happen at Mount Scopus, the bill is not especially relevant to our school.”

Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum of Yeshivah–Beth Rivkah Colleges had some reservations about the bill. He said that “while people’s private lives are not a factor in their hiring, a school was not generally an appropriate place for staff to discuss or flaunt their sexual behaviour, whether heterosexual or homosexual.”

He also pointed out that while “the aims of the legislation to prevent discrimination were laudable, there was some concern that activists could potentially misuse the legislation by challenging the curriculum, or even the teaching of certain sections of the Torah”.

But not everyone is on board. A member of another Orthodox school community told The AJN that if the bill were to pass, it “could be a problem” because they would not have the “flexibility they would need regarding LGBTQI+ staff teaching their students”.

On a federal level, after a 2018 pledge by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, the PM recently introduced his Religious Discrimination Bill to the floor. The legislation – if passed – will offer protection for faith-based schools, institutions, hospitals and aged-care facilities that wish to prioritise applicants of their faith. While it will be several months before the Senate votes on the bill, the legislation could override the Victorian Government’s anti-discrimination bill.

Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen lost his honorary position at Monash University for using his Monash email address to campaign against marriage equality

Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen lost his honorary position at Monash University for using his Monash email address to campaign against marriage equality

Cowen v Monash University (Review and Regulation) [2018] VCAT 694 (11 May 2018)

What is this proceeding about?

  1. In 2015, Dr Shimon Cowen, an alumni of Monash University (Monash) had held honorary positions with Monash for many years. Over the years he had undertaken specific tasks for payment. In 2015, he held an Adjunct Research Associate position with Monash’s Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation (the Centre).
  2. Dr Cowen was also the Director of the Institute for Judaism and Civilisation (the Institute). The Institute has no affiliation with Monash University.
  3. In early December 2015, Dr Cowen used his Monash email account to send to a group of municipal councillors a booklet which he described as, “a comprehensive briefing on [same-sex marriage] from the standpoint of the Judaeo-Christian tradition.”
  4. Two local councillors raised issues with Monash via email.
  5. One asked whether the Vice-Chancellor condoned the publication of what the councillor viewed as “blatant bigotry and homophobia” from a University email account (the Complaint). The Councillor copied the Complaint to Dr Cowen.
  6. The other councillor advised Monash that Dr Cowen was “still using his” Monash “email address to lobby municipal councillors”. I refer to this below as ‘the Notification’. Dr Cowen does not seek the name of the ‘notifier’.
  7. The University investigated the issue. The outcome for Dr Cowen was most serious. Monash’s Dean of the Faculty of Arts (the Dean) declined to continue his ongoing honorary appointment, in the context that at the time Monash was in the process of appointing him to an Associate position.
  8. The Dean’s email advising Dr Cowen of the outcome said this action was taken because Monash had received “several complaints” concerning his use of his Monash email address to lobby members of the community concerning same-sex marriage in relation to his activities associated with his Institute, with the implication that the Institute is associated with Monash.
  9. Dr Cowen appealed that decision to Monash’s Vice-Chancellor.1 In a short 12 January 2016 email she advised she had considered Dr Cowen’s letter of appeal and the broader issue. She confirmed the Dean’s decision, saying she was aware of and endorsed that decision at the time it was made.
  10. Under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act), Dr Cowen requested copies of all:
    1. Complaints received by the of the Vice-Chancellor’s Office and/or the Dean’s Office relating to his use of his Monash email account; and
    2. Correspondence to and from the Dean’s Office, and to and from the Vice-Chancellor’s Office, relating to revocation of his appointment as affiliate of Monash’s Faculty of Arts.
  11. Monash released to Dr Cowen a set of redacted documents. Dr Cowen sought review of that decision by the then Victorian Freedom of Information Commissioner. When the Commissioner did not make a decision within the requisite timeframe, Dr Cowen sought review at VCAT on the basis that his request was taken to be refused.
  12. In March 2017, the issue came before me for hearing. Dr Cowen represented himself. Monash was legally represented. I heard the case and reserved my decision.

The offending email sent by Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen:

On 11 Dec 2015, at 11:46 AM, Shimon Cowen <shimon.cowen@monash.edu> wrote:

Dear Councillor,

With the impending plebiscite on same-sex marriage, I thought it helpful to set out a comprehensive briefing on this matter from the standpoint of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

This took the form of a short booklet of talks which I, as a Jewish Rabbi (and son of a former Governor General of Australia, Sir Zelman Cowen), gave under the auspices of a Christian University, Campion College, in NSW. It sets out what I think is a shared perspective of the Abrahamic (Jewish-Christian-Islamic) faiths and perhaps wider yet.

I mailed the booklet to a number of Victorian Municipal Councillors. In the event that you did not receive a copy, or overlooked one which may have come in the mail, and would now like one please let me know. I received requests for some 100 copies from Councillors in NSW.

Even though you as a councillor may not be making statements on this matter, since you are close to networks of “grassroots” Australia, I thought you might be interested to see and share this material.

Please email me if you would like me to mail you a copy of this booklet at no charge. It is called “There is more than this…” I would be happy to send you more copies should you want them.

Yours Sincerely,
Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen,
Director, Institute for Judaism and Civilization


au_cases_vic_VCAT_2018_694

Jewish community responses to religious discrimination in schools

Jewish Community responses to the removal of discrimination against staff and students at religious schools.

This table will be updated as further details come to hand.
Last update: 5:54pm 04-Dec-2018

Organisation (click for statement)StateRemove exemptions
Bialik CollegeVIC
The King David SchoolVIC
Mount Scopus Memorial CollegeVIC
Leibler Yavneh CollegeVIC
Mount Sinai CollegeNSW
Emanuel SchoolNSW
Institute for Judaism and CivilisationVIC
Aleph MelbourneVIC
Sholem Aleichem CollegeVIC
Moriah CollegeNSW
United Jewish Education BoardVIC
Yeshivah & Beth Rivkah CollegesVIC
NSW Board of Jewish EducationNSW
Board of Progressive Jewish EducationNSW
Carmel SchoolWA
Sinai CollegeQLD

Rabbi Shimon Cowen “apologises” for mentioning paedophilia at JCCV Mental Health Forum for LGBTIQ people

 

Rabbi Shimon Cowen has apologised for a statement he made at last night’s JCCV forum on LGBTI inclusion …

“Last night I attended a meeting at Beth Weizmann hosted by the JCCV on the topic of assisting persons who may have been caused distress by the current Same Sex Marriage Debate.

“I am aware that a statement I made at the gathering is generating a lot of concern, and I want to apologize for any misunderstanding and offence it caused. The meeting discussed the issue of acceptance and inclusion of homosexual persons.

“I stated my understanding that we accept and care for all Jews – and indeed all people – because they are people, precious and made in the image of G-d. I went on to explain that one must be willing to exert oneself in this love and acceptance.

“Here I added extreme examples of misconduct, where the effort to love the person may be a difficult one. These examples included the case of a person who had stolen, or worse, a paedophile or a person who had committed incest. It was far from my intention to compare homosexual conduct to paedophilia or incest or anything else.

“Unfortunately, however, I was misunderstood to have compared them to homosexuality and this misunderstanding caused offence. I spoke after the meeting with the person who raised this grievance, explained to him and trust that I allayed any offence – which I certainly did not mean to cause – and that I was sorry that I was not more careful to avoid that misunderstanding.”

Source article

Media Release: JCCV tackles homophobia but must prove it is serious

Aleph Melbourne Media Release
March 28 2013
“JCCV tackles homophobia, but must prove it is serious”

Aleph Melbourne congratulates the Jewish Community Council of Victoria for aligning themselves with the No To Homophobia1 campaign, as announced2 in this week’s Australian Jewish News.

The No To Homophobia campaign aims to challenge all forms of harassment and discrimination faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer people.  With the JCCV signing up for these values it paves the way for greater acceptance and inclusion of GLBTIQ people in the Jewish community and will work to reduce the extreme marginalisation and intolerance that GLBTIQ people face at the Orthodox end of the religious spectrum.

As the only organisation representing the combined interests of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in Melbourne’s Jewish community, Aleph Melbourne all too frequently sees the effects of intolerance of sexual orientation and gender identity, especially when it emanates from within the Jewish community.

A recent example of homophobia in the Victorian Jewish community is when Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen3 called for the defunding of the Safe Schools Coalition Victoria program and published his beliefs that homosexual people should undergo sexual reorientation therapy to make them heterosexual.

Another example of homophobia in the Victorian Jewish community is the Rabbinical Council of Victoria writing a submission4 to the Australian Senate opposing changes to the Marriage Act to allow same-sex couples to obtain civil marriages.

Aleph Melbourne co-convenor Michael Barnett asks of JCCV President Nina Bassat “Signing up to the No To Homophobia campaign is definitely a step in the right direction, but how is the JCCV going to counter homophobic attitudes from the intolerant sections of the Jewish community, especially when it comes to equal recognition of our relationships under Civil law and other forms of legalised intolerance such as that where Jewish organisations are allowed to discriminate against LGBTI people, especially when they are Jewish.  It’s simply not enough for the JCCV just to ask their membership to also sign up.  That is not affirmative action.”

Barnett states “The JCCV must show that joining No To Homophobia is a sincere attitude change and not just window-dressing.  The lives of vulnerable same-sex attracted and gender diverse youth are at stake here and there is no room for hollow platitudes.”

Aleph Melbourne looks forward to the seeing the JCCV bring along its constituents in this new chapter and the accompanying benefits to the community that this entails, in particular building stronger and more inclusive families and reducing the rate of youth suicide, self-harm and mental health issues.

Aleph Melbourne also looks forward to the JCCV taking proactive initiatives to counter homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in all Jewish schools by recommending they all join the Safe Schools Coalition Victoria5.  There is also ample scope for the JCCV to work with Jewish sporting organisations to reduce homophobic intolerance and promote positive role models in those spaces.

Contact Michael Barnett on 0417-595-541 for further comment.

ENDS

  1. http://www.notohomophobia.com.au
  2. http://aleph.org.au/2013/03/28/jccv-says-no-to-homophobia-ajn
  3. http://mikeybear.com.au/2012/02/15/history-making-statement-issued-by-australias-jewish-peak-body-against-respected-orthodox-rabbi
  4. http://bit.ly/jewishsenatesubmissions
  5. http://safeschoolscoalitionvictoria.org.au

Media Release: Government gives $20K grant to promote inclusive communities to homophobic organisation

ALEPH MELBOURNE
MEDIA RELEASE: GOV’T GIVES $20K GRANT TO PROMOTE INCLUSIVE COMMUNITIES TO HOMOPHOBIC ORGANISATION
JULY 13 2012

J-Wire reports [1] the Institute for Judaism and Civilisation (IJC) [2] has been awarded a $20,000 grant to produce a teaching manual of the shared values of Christianity, Islam and Judaism to strengthen resilience against violent extremism.  Aleph Melbourne welcomes government grants of this nature and sees them as a valuable opportunity to further relationships between religious communities.

Attorney General Nicola Roxon describes of the Building Community Resilience grants program [3]:

We want to support local projects to build stronger, more inclusive communities. … Grants such as this will fund practical new activities to assist individuals and communities to resist and disengage from intolerant ideologies and encourage positive community participation.

Director of the IJC, Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen, is on the record in his 2012 submission to the Senate on “homosexual marriage” [4] as inferring that homosexuality is prohibited by God and that to allow any recognition of homosexuals is to show defiance to the universal ethics of God.

Cowen was also embroiled in a controversy earlier this year where he openly advocated for reparative therapy for gay people and that the anti-homophobic anti-bullying program Safe Schools Coalition Victoria be de-funded. [5]

Cowen’s stance is clearly at odds with this shared values program, which is described as funding “practical new activities to assist individuals and communities to resist and disengage from intolerant ideologies and encourage positive community participation.”

Cowen and the IJC have blatantly demonstrated an intolerance of homosexuality.

Michael Barnett, Convenor of Aleph Melbourne said, “By allocating this significant grant to such an organisation that fosters intolerant homophobic ideologies is a slap in the face to all same-sex attracted Jews, Christians and Muslims who are trying to gain acceptance in their respective communities.  Further, it sends the message that homophobic intolerance is acceptable.”

Federal MP Michael Danby has commended Cowen and said that this grant will allow the faith communities to explore their similarities and avoid extremism.

Barnett said, “The irony of the situation is that followers of ultra-conservative religious perspectives common to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, people like Shimon Cowen, believe that practitioners of homosexuality are sinners who should be shunned and actively discouraged from acting on their innate sexual orientation.  Some extremist viewpoints of these religions go so far as to say such people are worthy of death.”

Barnett calls on Danby and Roxon to revoke the $20,000 grant allocated to the IJC on the grounds that the IJC is a proponent of intolerant ideologies and to reallocate the funds to organisations that embrace diversity.

Further comment available from Michael Barnett on 0417-595-541.

[1] http://www.jwire.com.au/teaching-manual-to-be-produced-on-shared-values/
[2] http://www.ijc.com.au/
[3] http://www.livingsafetogether.gov.au/newsandblog/Pages/Building-resilient-communities.aspx
[4] http://aleph.org.au/2012/04/03/jewish-submissions-to-senate-enquiry-on-marriage-equality/
[5] http://aleph.org.au/2012/02/10/the-homosexual-anti-bullying-program-for-schools-an-unconscionable-strategem-afa-journal-vol-32-no-2-2011/


Update – January 5 2013 & October 5 2015

Since this media release was issued the AG web site link has changed. The new grants program page can be viewed http://www.livingsafetogether.gov.au/newsandblog/Pages/Building-resilient-communities.aspx. Details of the grant application in question can be viewed in full here and summary here.

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