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Advocates unhappy with exemptions
Tasmanian gay rights advocates are unhappy with a proposal to allow religious schools to discriminate against students on the grounds of religion but have welcomed safeguards to ensure discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation will continue to be unlawful. For several years the Catholic Church has sought an exemption to allow it to turn away non-Catholic students from schools that are over-subscribed.
In response, The Tasmanian government has framed a narrow exemption which gives the anti-discrimination commissioner the power to grant a religious exemption to faith-based schools but only in enrolment, only if they are over-subscribed and only for the period of the over-subscription.
To obtain an exemption, schools must actively demonstrate to the commissioner they do not discriminate on other grounds, including sexual orientation and relationship status. Some non-Catholic faith-based schools oppose these strict conditions and want a broader exemption.
“Faith-based schools are funded by the taxpayer to provide parents with a choice of where to send their kids, and any exemption which allows schools to limit that choice is a breach of this basic contract,” Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group spokesman Rodney Croome said.
“It is also a breach of the written commitment we were given by then Premier David Bartlett ahead of the 2010 election not to provide any more religious exemptions in the Anti-Discrimination Act.
“Our concern is that if church schools are given the right to discriminate against students on the grounds of religion they could use this as a cover to discriminate against students on other grounds like their sexual orientation or their parent’s marital status.
“A petition signed by over 730 Tasmanians was tabled in the Lower House by Greens’ Leader Nick McKim, illustrating strong community opposition to the proposed exemption and a strong desire for all Tasmanians to be treated equally.”