By Mike Hitch

The Religious Discrimination Bill may have met its match as the Victorian Greens announce plans to re-introduce a bill which protects students and teachers at faith-based schools across the state from discrimination.

The bill aims to amend the state’s Equal Opportunity Act 2010 by removing current exemptions allowing faith-based schools to discriminate based on sex, sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, marital status, parental status or gender identity.

While the most recent attempt to repeal these laws was voted down by both the Labor Government and Liberal Opposition in 2018, the Greens will re-introduce their Equality Bill to protect LGBTQI students and staff when Victorian Parliament resumes next week.

Victorian Greens spokesperson for LGBTQI equality and Member for Prahran, Sam Hibbins said that while the national debate around religious freedoms continues, decisive action from the Andrews Government can be carried out now to protect LGBTQI Victorians.

Hibbins also noted that as the Coalition Government had backpedalled on its promise to end discrimination against LGBTQI students and teachers, state reform was now the best option for broad-spectrum protection against discrimination.

“Victorians were rightly outraged when the Ruddock review revealed that faith-based schools were allowed to expel students or sack teachers because of their sexual or gender identities,” they said.

“And they have the right to be disappointed knowing that previous attempts to repeal these laws in Victoria have been voted down.

“Laws that allow discrimination based on sexuality and gender identity have no place in society and clearly do not reflect the values of the wider community.

“I am optimistic that in 2020 these common-sense changes to protect LGBTI students and teachers can be achieved.”

The Victorian Greens’ actions towards state reformation come at a time where many other marginalised religious communities are biting back at the prospect of rampant religious discrimination.

Religious organisations with strong LGBTQI affiliations such as the Rainbodhi LGBTQIA+ Buddhist Community and the Noosa Temple of Satan have both expressed concern over the true intentions of the Bill and its usefulness in an otherwise secular society.

Rainbodhi founder and Buddhist monk, Bhante Akāliko said that such privileges would create targets for vulnerable communities – communities that are not likely to be susceptible because of their faith.

“Religious freedom is not actually under threat in Australia. Personally, I have never faced any discrimination because of my faith as a Buddhist, but I have experienced plenty of prejudice, hatred and even violence due to my sexuality.”

While state reformation could still save Victoria, the Greens are also aiming to tackle the religious discrimination debate at a federal level through online campaigning and petitioning.

In a statement made on the Greens’ petition site, the party urges individuals to take a stand against the “trojan horse” of enshrining discrimination into federal legislation – noting the importance of community and unity.

“Discrimination harms everyone, and all Australians should have protection under the law. People of faith should be free to practice their religion without fear of harm or prejudice,” the site reads.

“Prime Minister Scott Morrison needs to commit to ensuring that religious protections don’t come at the expense of LGBTIQ+ people.

“We can build a future where everyone is treated with compassion and respect, but only if we fight against every attempt to divide us.”

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