Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday claimed that his government’s Religious Discrimination Bill will not discriminate against LGBTQI students.
Morrison made the claim while introducing the Bill in the House of Representatives, a statement that was immediately contested by LGBTQI advocates.
“Nothing in this bill, I stress, Mr Speaker, nothing in this bill allows for any form of discrimination against a student on the basis of their sexuality or gender identity. You won’t find it, anything of that nature in this bill. Such discrimination has no place in our education system,” said Morrison.
‘Bolsters The Ability Of Religious Schools To Discriminate’
Equality Australia challenged the assertion in a press statement following the PM’s speech in Parliament.
“It is already legal for religious schools to fire, expel or otherwise discriminate against LGBT students and staff. The Religious Discrimination Bill will do nothing to change this, instead bolstering the ability of religious schools to refuse to hire staff that affirm or support them,” Anna Brown, CEO of Equality Australia, said in a statement.
“What constitutes discrimination today, will be lawful tomorrow, allowing people to say harmful, insulting and demeaning things. Things like a medical worker telling a person living with HIV that AIDS is a punishment from God, or a person living with disability that their disability is caused by the devil,” said Brown.
Fears expressed by LGBTQI advocates that the Bill would override strong anti-discrimination protections for the community in states like Victoria and Tasmania were confirmed.
The PM said that the bill would protect “the fundamental right for religious schools to hire religious staff to maintain their religious ethos, in accordance with a publicly available policy. This protection will be able to override state or territory laws which seek to interfere with that right.”
A Bill That Discriminates
According to Evie Potter, Co-Convenor of the Victorian Pride Lobby, the bill seemed designed to specifically target states like Victoria.
Conservative Christian organisations had objected to state laws, including, Tasmania’s anti-discrimination law and Victoria’s gay conversion practices ban and the proposed religious exceptions reforms. Organisations like the Australian Christian Lobby have been demanding a federal law to over ride the state-level protections for the LGBTQI community.
“Morrison’s Religious Discrimination Bill specifically targets Victoria’s soon to be nation-leading anti-discrimination laws, and would override provisions that protect prospective employees from discrimination,” Potter told Star Observer.
“The Bill does nothing to protect LGBTQ+ students and teachers – it allows more discrimination by religious schools by reversing protections under Victorian law. This opens up Victorian teachers and staff to more discrimination, and does absolutely nothing to stop religious schools expelling LGBTQ+ students,” said Potter.
PM Says Bill Is Against Cancel Culture
PM Morrison had promised a law to protect religious freedom in 2017, soon after the national Marriage Equality vote. The pledge was seen as a way to placate the losing side comprising faith-based organisations, which had campaigned against same sex marriages.
“It is a sensible and balanced bill,” the PM reiterated as he positioned the Bill against cancel culture.
“People should not be cancelled or persecuted or vilified because their beliefs are different from someone else’s in a free liberal democratic society like Australia,” Morrison said.
“This bill ensures people can’t be persecuted for moderately expressing a reasonable belief, what could be fairer than that – whether that belief is motivated by – or indeed, critical of – a religion.”
“It recognises the unique ways in which those of faith express their beliefs and ensures that good faith statements of that belief are appropriately protected, for both religious and non-religious views. However, the bill draws a clear line against harassment, vilification or intimidation of anyone,” Morrison claimed.
Equality Australia has called for a joint parliamentary inquiry before the Bill is brought to vote.
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