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Religious exemptions on students fail
Proposed laws to allow religious schools to discriminate against students on religious grounds have been voted down by Tasmanian Greens and Liberal Party MPs.
Tasmanian gay rights advocates have welcomed the move after concerns were raised about the same exemptions being used by faith-based schools as a cover to discriminate against LGBTI students or same-sex parented families.
The ability of faith-based schools to prioritise students of their particular faith is unclear now following the bill’s defeat.
The Greens voted against the proposed exemption because it went too far in allowing discrimination but Liberal MPs opposed it because the same bill did not go far enough to allow religious schools the right to discriminate on religious grounds.
The Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group said the Tasmanian Catholic Church had sought an exemption for years to allow it to turn away non-Catholic students at schools already over-subscribed.
Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group spokesman Rodney Croome welcomed the bill’s failure.
“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 relationship status,” he said.
Tasmanian Attorney-General Brian Wightman made it clear that if the proposed amendments had been passed, discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and relationship status would remain unlawful.
Other amendments to the Anti-Discrimination Act have strengthened provisions against harassment and bullying that provide better protections for transgender and intersex people in Tasmania.
These new amendments that were passed included a ban on any conduct that “offends, humiliates, intimidates, insults, or ridicules” which have been labelled as a threat to free speech by opponents such as the Australian Christian Lobby.
Croome said these laws showed Tasmania was again leading Australia in fostering a fairer and more inclusive society.
“Fair-minded Tasmanians can take pride in the fact that we are the first place in Australia to explicitly protect intersex people from discrimination and that we are providing stronger protections for transgender people.”
But Australian Christian Lobby Tasmanian director Mark Brown said censoring free speech based on hurt feelings was “political correctness gone mad”.
“ACL certainly objects to behaviour that incites hatred or ridicules another but to open the prohibition of offence to things like religious or political belief or sexual orientation is a threat to freedom of speech,” Brown said.