Ballarat Christian College under fire for same-sex marriage views

Rachel Colvin worked at Ballarat Christian College for 11 years.
Rachel Colvin worked at Ballarat Christian College for 11 years.

A Ballarat private school has again come under fire for its staunch beliefs with a former teacher launching legal action, claiming she was forced to resign after she refused to accept the school's policy about same-sex marriage.

Ballarat teacher and devoted Christian Rachel Colvin was employed at the non-denominational Ballarat Christian College for a number of years before she resigned in February.

The Courier understands Ms Colvin was first employed by the college in 2008 for several years, with her most recent term of employment from July 2016 until her resignation earlier this year.

She has filed a discrimination case with the Victorian Civil Administrative Appeals Tribunal (VCAT) under Victoria's Equal Opportunity Act 2010.

The wife and mother of three alleges she was counselled by the school and then forced to resign after she refused to agree to sign an amended statement of faith stating that marriage can only be between a male and a female.

This, she said, was contrary to her own political and religious beliefs.

Ms Colvin, who grew up in an evangelical household in Arizona and once lived as a missionary, alleges from around the time of August 2018, after the national plebiscite, she was denied certain teaching and professional development opportunities at the school despite her offering to remain quiet about her beliefs with her students.

Rachel Colvin is a dedicated Christian and regular church goer

Rachel Colvin is a dedicated Christian and regular church goer

"I am devastated by what happened to me," she said.

"I loved my job. I am an extremely hard-worker and loyal to a fault, and to have it end the way it did was, at first, professionally humiliating."

But as time has passed she has come to see the situation differently - as a "God-given opportunity to stand up for what is right, to represent what God is really about: loving others".

She believes same sex marriage has the same potential as heterosexual marriage to be a reflection of God's love when it reflects the life-giving, self-sacrificing love of Jesus.

"I am bringing the case to let my LGBTQI+ students know that they aren't deformed or disordered. They were created as they are, in the image of God, and that they are fully loved by God and share equal dignity with all human beings," she said.

It is not the first time the college has come under attack for imposing its strong beliefs on the school community.

In 2015 the school was vandalised with crude graffiti after its principal sent out an email to parents urging them to oppose marriage equality.

Rachel Colvin

Rachel Colvin

The school was closed for a day while the graffiti was removed. The two offenders were placed on a 12-month diversion program.

Christian Schools Australia's executive officer of national policy Mark Spencer said staff were expected to share and model the beliefs of the school.

"They are something the school has been open about for quite some time," he said.

Mr Spencer said the college's beliefs about marriage - an orthodox, historic Christian view - were outlined in its statement of faith.

He said the school began to update its constitution following the changes to the Marriage Act in December 2017 and was approved at the school's Annual General Meeting in mid-2018.

The updated statement reads:

"God designed the two genders, male and female, for the purpose of joy and procreation within the sole relationship of marriage. So a marriage can only be between a male and a female, and upon this foundation alone should children be conceived and families formed," it reads.

Rachel Colvin and her husband Mark have three children

Rachel Colvin and her husband Mark have three children

Mr Spencer said the school was surprised the claim was being lodged without further attempts to discuss it and was seeking advice about how to respond.

Ms Colvin's claim is being supported by Equality Australia.

Equality Australia chief executive Anna Brown said upon meeting Ms Colvin she was immediately struck by her compassion, empathy and the importance of her faith in her teaching and to who she is as a person.

"Sadly the students at Ballarat Christian College have lost a caring and capable teacher, simply because an employer has sought to impose its narrow minded version of Christianity and control the personal beliefs of its staff."

She said Australians should not be hounded out of jobs because their religious beliefs support and respect the dignity of LGBTQI+ people and their relationships.

"It's truly saddening that a non-denominational Christian College can see fit to employ teachers representing many different denominations of Christianity, but its acceptance of diversity ends when those Christians hold views that support and affirm LGBTQI+ people and same-sex relationships."

Ms Brown said these issues were raised in the proposed federal Religious Discrimination Bill which presents risks to workers in religious organisations who hold the belief that LGBTIQ+ people deserve equal rights.

Ms Colvin wants the school to declare it unlawfully discriminated against her, an order that the school refrain from doing so to anybody else and is seeking damages, interest and costs.

She is being represented pro bono by barristers Elizabeth Bennett, Tim Goodwin and Suganya Pathan and law firm Clayton Utz.

The school and the Australian Education Union were also contacted for comment.

This story Teacher 'forced to resign' over same-sex marriage views sues school first appeared on The Courier.