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Government under fire for discrimination
The NSW Government has been harshly criticised by leading HIV/AIDS organisations and state Sydney MP Alex Greenwich (pictured) for continuing to support the right of religious bodies to discriminate in their hiring practices.
In its submission to the federal government’s Senate Committee inquiry on the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012, released last week, the state government restated its opposition to any weakening of exemptions for religious organisations on the grounds that doing so “may adversely affect freedom of religion”.
The submission was met with dismay from a number of people and organisations who are lobbying the federal government to abandon the exemptions, which allow religious bodies to fire LGBTI people or anyone else who displays characteristics that do not “conform to the doctrines…of that religion” or may incur “injury to religious sensitivities”.
Greenwich said there was no justification for the government’s continued support of the exemptions.
“This submission by the government supports the status quo where teachers and students dismissed from religious schools for their sexuality have no grounds to claim discrimination,” Greenwich told the Star Observer.
“Religious and private schools get government funding – LGBTI Aussies who want to attend these schools or teach in them shouldn’t be barred just because of who they are.”
AFAO executive director Rob Lake called the government’s submission extremely disappointing.
“Giving religious organisations a free pass to carry on discriminating against lesbians, gay men and transgender people will further entrench discrimination in the services they are funded by taxpayers to provide,” Lake said.
“Evidence over the past year should make it obvious that society cannot afford to allow any institution, the Church included, to sit outside the laws of the land.”
In its submission to the inquiry, the Uniting Church of Australia’s social justice advocacy branch UnitingJustice said it was “deeply concerned” by the exemptions.
“The wide-ranging list of protected attributes…for religious organisations serves only to perpetuate the potential for discrimination both by and within religious institutions,” UnitingJustice said in the statement.
“While we believe that the right to freedom of religion is of vital importance, and its recognition necessary, we do not believe that this is an absolute right…it must be balanced with the rights of the wider community.”
The federal government is currently reviewing submissions and publishing them on the Senate Committees website. The findings of the inquiry will be released on Monday, February 18.