Australia Mulls New Law To Ban Religious Schools From Discriminating Against LGBT Students, Staff

Australia Mulls New Law To Ban Religious Schools From Discriminating Against LGBT Students, Staff
Image: Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus

Nearly a year after former PM Scott Morrison failed to get his Religious Discrimination Bill passed in Parliament, the Anthony Albanese government is moving ahead with plans to enact a law that will protect LGBTQI students and staff from discrimination in religious schools in Australia. 

Last week, the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) released a Consultation Paper and sought a response from the general public about the proposed anti-discrimination rules that will make it illegal for religious schools to expel students or sack staff for being LGBTQI. In November 2022, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus tasked the ALRC to come up with recommendations to reform federal anti-discrimination laws. 

Currently, religious schools have an exemption from federal anti-discrimination laws that allow them to discriminate, sack and expel LGBTQI students and teachers. The changes to the law proposed by ALRC will remove those exemptions. 

Removing Exemptions For Religious Schools

The proposed law reform will make it unlawful for religious educational institutions to discriminate against students “on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or relationship status, or pregnancy”. 

It will also “protect teachers and other school staff from discrimination on the grounds of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or relationship status, or pregnancy”. 

The proposed laws will still allow religious schools “to maintain their religious character by permitting them to give preference to prospective staff on religious grounds where the teaching, observance, or practice of religion is a part of their role” and “require all staff to respect the educational institution’s religious ethos.”

The deadline for submissions is February 24, 2023, and the ALRC will submit its final recommendations to the Australian government on April 21, 2023. 

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LGBTQI advocates have welcomed the ALRC consultation paper and have called on the community to submit their responses. 

“We urge those who oppose the detrimental treatment of LGBTIQA+ people to raise their voices for equality in religious schools before the February 24th deadline,” Just.Equal Australia spokesperson Brian Greig said in a statement. 

“We also urge people who send in a submission to make the point that there should be no indirect discrimination, including loophole discrimination in the name of ‘religious ethos’, and to call for an end to exemptions for faith-based welfare agencies as well.”

Greig referred to the recent ABC Four Corners story about LGBTQI students facing discrimination at two Opus Dei affiliated schools in Sydney. 

 “(It’s) a reminder (as to) why it is vital the law condemns discrimination in faith-based schools. States like Tasmania and Victoria already prohibit all discrimination and the Federal Government should too,” said Greig. 

Concessions To Conservative Churches Concerning

The organisation said it had also written to the Attorney General about the fact that of the 10 organisations that were consulted in connection with the terms of reference, seven were religious organisations and only one was an LGBTQI group.

“The conservative Anglican Diocese of Sydney was consulted despite it not representing the Anglican Church nationally, and the LGBTIQA-friendly Uniting Church was not consulted at all. The LGBTIQA-friendly Independent Education Union was not consulted, nor were any women’s groups despite the inquiry impacting their rights too,” said Greig.

“This bias reflects in concessions to conservative church leaders such as the ALRC proposal to allow the exclusion of LGBTQA+ students from religious observances. We must do all we can to stop any such concession to prejudice,” Greig added.

Have your say here! Submit your feedback to The Australian Law Commission’s proposal to protect LGBTQI students and staff in religious schools before February 24, 2023. 

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