The draft equality bill, which the government intends to pass through parliament, misconstrues the noble concept of equality. It erroneously equates it with uniformity and there is nothing progressive about societal levelling through the imposition of uniformity.

As a matter of fact, the bill has an authoritarian streak. It’s an exercise in thought control. It seeks to encroach on freedom of thought and freedom of expression. It curbs religious freedom. It is an illiberal exercise restricting pluralism in education in a pluralist society.

Ironically it does so while presenting itself as a champion of multiculturalism.

It is an exercise in statism where the state has more centralised control over social affairs than it should have. It holds that it should have the final say – rather than granting parents freedom of choice – over children’s education. It is pseudo-Marxist in its attempt at social engineering while it corrupts the foundations of society.

The past century gives ample examples of social experiments in equality gone mad. From everyone wearing identical clothes in Maoist China, to everyone driving the same car in East Germany. Nobody’s life became any better that way. 

The concept of equality presumes the protection of diversity, not its suffocation. It does not seek to erase differences but grants equal rights to diversity and seeks to provide equal opportunities. The proposed draft bill as it is fails the test. 

Employers and stakeholders in the health sector have already expressed very legitimate concerns. I’ll focus here on the educational sector, which is expected to suffer as a consequence of these laws.

Malta has long had a tradition of non-government schooling, most of which consists of Catholic schools. These schools have offered an excellent service over the years: a high-quality education and a wider choice for parents to choose from. The vast majority of their alumni have grown to be exemplary citizens and responsible adults who have contributed immensely to the public good. Despite their denominational orientation, no one in his right senses could claim that these schools are hotbeds of bigotry, prejudice or discrimination.

The bill is an exercise in thought control- Clyde Puli

The defining moment of Maltese Catholic schools came in the 1980s. The then-Labour government decided to wage war based on the claim that Catholic schools, in levying fees, were effectively discriminating against children of low-wage earners. This casus belli was entirely a fabrication: as anyone who attended these schools can tell you, these schools always drew children from all sorts of different socio-economic backgrounds. Labour’s real motive was to impose its centralised control. It is what it is trying to do today. The claims of widespread and wholesale discrimination in Catholic schools is just a figment of its imagination. 

Until now, that non-government schools have the right to employ teachers who live the ethos of the schools was never questioned. This was never limited to the teaching of those subjects where that ethos is directly relevant. In the case of Catholic schools, for example, that right was not limited to the employment of teachers teaching religious education.

Government schools, after all, already offer Catholic religious education, required by the constitution, as part of their curriculum. And as Bishop Anton Teuma recently said, “we would be impoverishing education should we decide to limit Christian education to the information about our faith given during religion classes”.

So, government’s discounting Christian education to exclusively religion lessons is outright ridiculous. A Christian education involves holistic cross-curricular teaching. Indeed, it is the whole environment that nourishes the school ethos. And that environment of course includes educators and administrators.

When I, as a parliamentary secretary, set up and launched the National School of Sport, I envisaged a school which would proudly and freely promote sport as a way of life. I wouldn’t have imagined anybody, for example, allowing a teacher of French to encourage unhealthy diets, sedentary lifestyles and the futility of sports. Likewise, I would never imagine any political party employing political opponents to manage their own affairs or Birdlife employing a hunter to represent them.

So why should it be acceptable to force the Church to employ educators who conduct public campaigns against its teaching or science teachers who actively promote no ethical restrictions for scientific practice? In the Christian way of thinking a human embryo is not simply a mass of cells and the way you define it defines the way you talk about it.

In other words, when the right to ensure a general Catholic ethos in a Catholic school is removed, Catholic and government schooling become identical. That might not sound major until you remember that there is a wider right at stake, one recognised in the European Convention of Human Rights, of parents to choose an education for their children consistent with their beliefs. So, minister, kindly leave our kids alone.

Clyde Puli is PN spokesperson on education.

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