Religious schools would be able to discriminate against students and teachers on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or relationship status under recommendations made by the Philip Ruddock-led religious freedom review.
The review, which was commissioned at the end of last year and handed to the government in May, is still reportedly being debated by cabinet and has not yet been released publicly.
“There is a wide variety of religious schools in Australia and … to some school communities, cultivating an environment and ethos which conforms to their religious beliefs is of paramount importance,” the report noted.
“To the extent that this can be done in the context of appropriate safeguards for the rights and mental health of the child, the panel accepts their right to select, or preference, students who uphold the religious convictions of that school community.”
The panel also agreed that religious schools should be able to reject prospective teachers on the basis of their sexuality or relationship status, something some states already allow.
Last year, a Perth school fired a teacher for being gay which has since brought religious schools’ ability to discriminate based on sexuality or gender identity into question in Western Australia.
And polling from last month revealed that just over a third of Australians supported the introduction of laws enshrining religious freedoms, but just as many were undecided on the issue.
Among supporters of the major parties, Coalition voters proved most supportive, with 48 per cent of Liberal and National party voters in favour.
34 per cent of Labor voters indicated support, while 37 per cent of Greens voters said they supported the move as well – with 43 per cent of voters who supported ‘other’ parties opposing potential laws in the highest numbers.
Independent MP Alex Greenwich said the recommendations in the religious freedom review allowing religious schools to discriminate against students and teachers were “cruel” and out of step with community sentiment.
“The recommendation to increase discrimination in schools against gay teachers and students is offensive to parents, teachers, and school communities,” he said.
“The government should be focusing on reducing, not increasing bullying in schools.
“Before legislating this anti-gay bullying in schools, I urge the Prime Minister to meet with LGBTI students and teachers who have shared with me stories of intense bullying at the hands religious schools and to understand first-hand the impact this has.”
just.equal spokesperson, Rodney Croome, said he would lobby Liberal moderates, Labor, and the Senate cross-bench to oppose any attempt to legislate the recommendation.
“Schools should be places of learning, not breeding grounds of prejudice,” he said.
“Any school that receives public money should abide by the same rules as the rest of society, including the same rules about fair-treatment and discrimination.”
In a statement, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government would consider the details of the review and release its response after they had gone through the proper cabinet process.
“We will protect religious freedom, and get the balance right,” he said.
“Each proposal will be considered carefully and respectfully before any final decisions are taken.”
The review received more than 15,000 submissions and was undertaken by a panel chaired by Ruddock.
The authors rejected several recommendations demanded by conservatives, including amendments to the marriage equality legislation that was passed last year.
They didn’t accept that businesses should be allowed to refuse services on religious grounds, and found that civil celebrants should not be entitled to refuse to conduct same-sex wedding ceremonies if they became celebrants after Australia achieved marriage equality.