The government review of religious freedom has been extended, following a huge volume of submissions.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has announced the review, headed by Philip Ruddock, has had its deadline extended from the end of this month to May 18.

The review panel requested the extension after receiving an “unprecedented” number of submissions—more than 16,000.

“In light of the volume of submissions, I have agreed to this extension to ensure that the panel has adequate time to carefully consider the issues raised,” Turnbull said in a media statement.

“While it was anticipated that the original deadline of 31 March would be met, the number of submissions has made this impossible.

“I would like to thank the expert panel for its work.”

The review into ‘religious freedom’ was launched following last year’s marriage equality debate.

The panel is investigating the need for formal exemptions to anti-discrimination laws for civil celebrants and other services who refuse to service to LGBTI couples on religious grounds.

The proposed exemptions are unprecedented in that service providers have not had enshrined in law a right to refuse service to a particular group.

LGBTI rights advocates have raised concerns that the review will be used to legalise discrimination and undermine current laws protecting the LGBTI community.

“I think that these issues, although they were lost in the parliament thank goodness, I am sure will be returned in the inquiry that Philip Ruddock will be heading, and I think that will provide an opportunity for the institutional power of the churches to increase their sway,” said Anne-Marie Delahunt, chair of the ACT’s LGBTIQ Ministerial Advisory Council, when the review was announced in December.

“That’s what worries me a lot. The right of a school to discriminate against gay and lesbian teachers, surely that means in the school if there are young vulnerable kids they’re going to be at risk because there’s no sympathy and in fact antagonism towards them, and I think that’s a real concern.”

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