Former Prime Minister John Howard has said the “politics of discrimination” against LGBTI students has stymied debate on religious freedoms.

Howard slammed the debate on the issue as “maddening” while insisting that schools be allowed to “teach the ethos” of their religious affiliation.

 “Nobody wants to expel gay kids and to my knowledge it’s not happening. I mean, this is the greatest red herring imaginable,” Howard told The Australian.

“Surely everybody agrees, of course, you don’t expel gay kids. That’s ridiculous and unfair.”

“[But] a faith-based school should be able to teach the ethos of the school. That’s why people send their children to Jewish schools or Anglican schools or Catholic schools.

“If a teacher tries to undermine that, well, they should be able to let them go.”

In an interview at the National Press Club, Howard also spoke out against the “curse of identity politics” which he described as “an absolute evil thing for rational political debate”, while reiterating his stance against same-sex marriage.

“I think one of the things the Liberal Party should do is more vigorously bang on the head these prescriptions ‘far right’,” he said.

“What’s far right about having a conservative position on a social issue? It’s not far right. It’s just conservative.”

Howard said that the current government should have dealt with the issue of religious freedoms already.

“I think this issue should have been dealt with a year ago. It should have been fixed at the time,” he said.

The former Prime Minister, who instituted a formal ban on same-sex marriage, said the discussion of discrimination around religious freedoms had “become so potent” that it was preventing those involved from reaching a “commonsense solution.”

“If someone is teaching at a Catholic school and they start ridiculing the Catholic religion, well of course the school is entitled to arc up about that.”

As part of his submission to the religious freedom review, Howard said religious schools should be given an affirmative right to discriminate in staffing decisions rather than a “potentially temporary reprieve from dragnet anti-discrimination legislation”

Howard also suggested that schools with mandatory education on sexuality and gender should be stripped of funding.

Parliamentary debate over discrimination against LGBTI students and teachers has been pushed to 2019 after politicians failed to meet the year-end deadline Prime Minister Scott Morrison set for the issue to be resolved.

Further reading: ‘Labor should defend us this time around’: why religious freedom is the new Howard marriage ban

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