The group Fairness in Religion in Schools (FIRIS) has raised concerns that the Morrison Government’s draft Religious Discrimination Bill could force NSW public schools to rent out their facilities to religious groups that hold extreme views, or allow such people access to school grounds.
Section 19 of the bill deals with “access to premises” and states that it is unlawful for a person to discriminate against another person on the grounds of the other person’s religious belief or activity by “refusing to allow the other person access to, or the use of, any premises that the public or a section of the public is entitled or allowed to enter or use (whether for payment or not).”
FIRIS fear this means that if a school makes a building or hall available for hire then it will then have no right to restrict access to any religious group that wishes to make use of it, regardless of their views.
FIRIS are concerned that this will override the NSW Department of Education’s Values in NSW Public Schools Policy.
“It seems that we have a government prepared to enable Christian organisations to commandeer public school facilities regardless of the views of these churches and whether they are contrary to the values of public education, the health, safety and wellbeing of all students, and the best interests of the community,” the group said in a statement.
“No child of LGBTIQ parents should have to accept that their school’s facilities are used by Christian churches, such as the Hunter Bible Church which worships at Lambton High School in Newcastle, which likens children of same-sex partners to the Stolen Generation.”
Community Action for Rainbow Rights (CARR), formerly known as Community Action Against Homophobia, have also voiced concerns about the effect the Morrison Government’s proposed legislation could have on public schools in NSW.
“The government is writing laws to create a new hierarchy of rights privileging bigots above all else,” CARR spokesperson April Holcombe told the Star Observer, “Public schools couldn’t send a positive message to their students by refusing their facilities to anti-LGBTI or anti-women extremists.”
CARR are also concerned about faith based exemptions for medical practitioners that some of the bill’s supporters are pushing for.
“Meanwhile, doctors, nurses, specialists and pharmacists in public and private health could refuse to assist patients if they deem it against their religion,” Holcombe said.
“Abortion, contraception, transgender medicine and who knows what else, could be arbitrarily denied.”
CARR are holding a rally against the draft legislation at 1pm on Saturday, October 12 at Sydney Town Hall and Holcombe encouraged the community to come out to show their opposition to the government’s plans.
“These shocking bills show exactly why we need to protest on October 12,” Holcombe said of the upcoming event.
“Religious conservatives are not persecuted; their institutions are powerful and privileged, and about to get sweeping new rights to discriminate unless we stop them.”