Australia Karen Pack was praised as an 'excellent and committed educator', but sacked by her employer Morling College for being gay
Karen Pack was praised as an 'excellent and committed educator', but sacked by her employer Morling College for being gay
Karen Pack was the target of existing religious discrimination laws which allowed her employer, the Baptist Church's Morling College, to sack her because she is openly gay. (ABC News: Jerry Rickard) Karen Pack was excited about getting married to long-time partner Bronte Scott.The 46-year-old told her work colleagues last year — and then lost her job.Ms Pack told 7.30 she was sacked – legally, under current laws — because she is openly gay and worked at Morling College, a Baptist education institution in Sydney.
Karen Pack was excited about getting married to long-time partner Bronte Scott.
The 46-year-old told her work colleagues last year — and then lost her job.
Ms Pack told 7.30 she was sacked – legally, under current laws — because she is openly gay and worked at Morling College, a Baptist education institution in Sydney.
She believes it was prompted by an email from the public attacking her sexuality and urging the Baptist denomination to "distance itself from her demonic actions" because they felt "disgusted".
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In a statement to 7.30, the principal of Morling College, Ross Clifford, said it was Ms Pack who decided to leave the school because she could "no longer adhere to a key Morling value" about the "nature of marriage", and that "after discussion and prayer" she left their employment. It's a claim that the couple deny.
And yet the College described her in a letter to students at the time as an "excellent and committed educator", a "good friend, teacher and colleague" who would still be "warmly welcomed on campus".
"Karen loved that job and that work and that she flourished in that because that's what she's great at. And for that to be taken away... it was really hard to watch," Ms Scott told 7.30.
The couple and groups like Equality Australia, fear what new powers to discriminate will be created by the federal government's planned changes to religious freedom laws.
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'It's been an incredibly painful journey'
Karen Pack is a deeply committed Christian. She's been a missionary, is an ordained minister and has been a teacher for 25 years.
"It's terrifying to come out as a gay Christian," she told 7.30.
"Especially, I think, when you've grown up in a church, you're within a culture that tells you that your belonging and your value is unconditional, that it's based on the love of God, that it's based on the love of Jesus for all people.
"But the reality that you know that you've internalised your whole life is that it is actually conditional.
"It's been an incredibly painful journey. I've been in churches where I've been called demonic going into church. I've been in churches where there's petitions on the back table against people like me."
Email attacking 'demonic' sexuality
For two years, Ms Pack was employed to train chaplains at Morling College.
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"In February 2018, I signed a contract to become an adjunct lecturer, both times just checking that I could sign up with integrity," Ms Pack said.
"I was open with people and staff. I didn't hide my sexuality."
In 2019, Morling formally offered her another new teaching role at the college. This time, she signed a code of conduct created in the aftermath of the same sex marriage vote.
"I responded by saying, 'Look, I'm very happy to affirm that marriage is between a man and a woman, that that is a sacred and a beautiful thing. I have no problem affirming that. What you need to understand is that's not the limit of what I affirm. That's not the only thing that recognises and reflects the beauty and the sacredness of God'," she said.
"And they accepted that, and were happy to have me sign the contract and continue on staff."
Then, at the start of 2020, the school received an email from a member of the public, which 7.30 has seen.
It declared Ms Pack is a "lesbian" who needs to be "denounced immediately", and it urged the Baptist denomination to "distance itself from her demonic actions" because they felt "disgusted".
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She was then sacked, with Morling College making it clear in a letter to students that the decision was made by the "leadership" of the college and its board based on the "position on same-sex marriage held by the college" as stated in its "community code".
All legal under current law
"Under the Sex Discrimination Act, religious institutions can discriminate on the basis of someone's sexual orientation. And they have a particular exemption that allows them to do that," said Alex Grayson, a workplace law specialist from Maurice Blackburn.
"It is unlawful to discriminate someone on the basis of their colour, their age, their disability — religious institutions can't do that in employment.
"But in relation to sexual orientation, different rules apply and religious institutions can do that."
Following the same sex marriage vote, the federal government promised to review laws protecting freedom of religion.
In 2019, it started drafting a religious discrimination bill that seeks to further enshrine the right for religious schools to dismiss gay staff.
"The religious freedoms laws that are currently trying to be passed, they're not religious freedom laws, they're protected discrimination laws," Ms Pack told 730.
"They're trying to protect the right of some elements in the church to discriminate, not against people outside, but against people within their very own bodies, their very own churches and families. That's what's so devastating about it."
But Ms Pack doesn't intend to take Morling to court.
"I haven't pursued legal action and I have no intention of doing that. I'm doing this because right now, one of my friends is in a mental health unit," she said.
"I know of two more teachers just this [year] that have been sacked from Christian schools. That's why I'm doing it."
From ostracism to 'I do'
Karen Pack and her partner Bronte Scott were married last month in the Uniting Church in the inner Sydney suburb of Paddington, surrounded by close friends who have championed and supported them through the past few years.
"We really wanted to get married in a physical church, because of the role of our faith. And just to be, like, yeah, we're doing this — living all of ourselves," Ms Scott said.
"We're stepping into the next part of our life, of being fully us, being married... knowing there's a place for us."
Watch the full story on 7.30, Thursday night on ABC TV and .
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