Gay students, teachers could be discriminated, according to religious freedom review

By @chelean on
LGBTQ
A religious freedoms report apparently recommends schools to reject gay students and teachers. Creative Commons

Religious schools could be given a weapon to discriminate against LGBTI, according to a new report. A religious freedoms report that is yet to be released apparently recommends schools to reject gay students and teachers.

Fairfax Media reports that the federal review into religious freedom, which was commissioned in the wake of the same-sex marriage legalisation last year to appease conservative MPs, is still being debated by the cabinet despite being handed to the Coalition four months ago. It has apparently been sitting in the prime minister’s desk since May.

The contents of the report apparently will not placate conservative politicians and religious leaders, the publication says. However, it will also not be favourable to the LGBTI community as there are passages about how gay students and teachers could be discriminated.

The review, chaired by former Liberal minister Phillip Ruddock, allegedly calls for the federal Sex Discrimination Act to be amended to allow faith-based schools to turn away students and teachers based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or religious status.

“There is a wide variety of religious schools in Australia and … to some school communities, cultivating an environment and ethos which conforms to their religious beliefs is of paramount importance,” the report, parts of which were obtained by Fairfax, reads. “To the extent that this can be done in the context of appropriate safeguards for the rights and mental health of the child, the panel accepts their right to select, or preference, students who uphold the religious convictions of that school community.”

The report adds that any further amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act should only apply to new enrolments. Schools also must publicly available policy that outline their position and regard the best interests of the child as the “primary consideration of its conduct.”

The hiring and rejection of teachers may also be based on their religious belief, sexual orientation, gender identity or relationship status.

However, the review states that religious schools should not discriminate students or teachers on the basis of their race, disability, pregnancy or intersex status. The states, according to the review, should abolish any laws allowing discrimination on these grounds.

The Ruddock-led panel also included Australian Human Rights Commission president Rosalind Croucher, former Federal Court judge Annabelle Bennett, human rights lawyer and priest Frank Brennan, and constitutional law professor Nicholas Aroney.

They have rejected some of the conservatives’ demands, including allowing businesses to refuse services on religious grounds, as well as allowing civil celebrants to refuse to conduct same-sex wedding ceremonies if they became celebrants after marriage equality was legalised.

They also do not recommend any changes to the Marriage Act or recommend a dedicated Religious Freedom Act that would allow religious organisations to be exempted from anti-discrimination laws.

The panel recommends that the amendment of the Racial Discrimination Act or creation of a Religious Discrimination Act, which would make it illegal to discriminate a person based on their religious belief or lack thereof.

While the report is expected to infuriate conservatives and worry others, Prime Minister Scott Morrison defended the review on Wednesday, saying that religious schools turning away gay students was already an “existing law.” He added that the religious freedom review was independent from the government and the product of community consultation.

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