The Australian Association of Christian Schools (AACS) has spoken out against the Labor Party’s promise to outlaw discrimination towards LGBTI students and staff in religious schools.

Among Labor’s election promises to the LGBTI community, the party has vowed to amend the Sex Discrimination Act “to remove the exemptions that permit religious schools to discriminate against students and staff on the basis of their sexuality or gender identity”.

The AACS has expressed “deep concern” that such a change could “set Christian education schools up for breaches of the law through mere disagreement with Labor LGBTIQ orthodoxy”.

Executive officer Alithea Westerman compared the proposed changes to anti-discrimination law to the practices of authoritarian states.

“Christian education in Australia has been free from State-imposed religious restrictions for its entire history, yet threatening the teaching and expression of mainstream Christian beliefs in their schools with sanctions should they cause ‘offence’ or vaguely defined ‘harassment’ is more akin to countries that demand obedience to the power and dogma of their ruling class,” she said.

Labor’s policy states that it intends to maintain religious freedom as well as freedom from discrimination.

“We do not believe that the removal of these exemptions will hamper a religious school’s capacity to teach its religion and operate according to its traditions and beliefs,” it reads.

LGBTI advocates have called on Labor to clarify their policy, with just.equal spokesperson Rodney Croome last week saying the party appears to be “backing two horses”.

“LGBTI teachers in faith-based schools need certainty that they will be protected from discrimination under a Labor Government,” Croome said.

A Perth teacher made headlines in 2017 when he lost his job at a Baptist school after coming out as gay.

A recent survey shows 72 per cent of Australians support legal protection for LGBTI students and teachers.

Westerman said allowing Christian schools the right to discriminate is a matter of religious diversity.

“To be fearful of causing ‘offence’ or ‘harassment’ merely by promoting conscientiously held beliefs that have grounded the institutions of our civilisation, or face sanction, is no way to maintain pluralism in Australia,” she said.

“Should Labor form government and wish to promote its own doctrine to the extent that the expression of traditional Christian beliefs be subservient, or face sanction, the Australian Association of Christian Schools will protest in solidarity with all who love and prefer freedom of speech, conscience and belief.”

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