Recommendations from a review into religious freedom in Australia could lead to gay and transgender students, and teachers, being rejected from Australian schools.
Following the legalisation of same-sex marriage in December 2017 in the country, the Australian government ordered a review into religious freedom.
The review hoped to address concerns of religious communities and conservative MPs who feared the change would restrict people’s ability to practise their religion freely.
It was carried about by a panel chaired by former attorney-general Philip Ruddock, and received more than 15,000 submissions.
A report from the review was given to Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s cabinet four months ago, and recommended the federal Sex Discrimination Act to be amended in order to allow religious schools to discriminate against students on the basis of religious belief, sexual orientation, gender identity or relationship status, the Sunday Morning Herald reports.
The panel agreed faith-based schools should have some discretion to discriminate in the hiring of teachers on the same grounds, though religious schools already have some exemptions from discrimination laws when it comes to hiring teachers.
LGBT groups argued the recommendations by telling the panel about the stress and mental health pressure on teachers forced to hide their identity.
The report explained:
[An] example was given of an employee at a religious school who was employed despite being open about being same-sex attracted.
Later, when the leadership of the school changed, that teacher was dismissed on the basis of his sexuality.
The report also stated:
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.
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 report is still being reviewed by the cabinet, but Prime Minister Scott Morrison made a statement about the recommendations today (October 10), saying:
Our government will consider the details and release our response after it has gone through a proper cabinet process.
We will protect religious freedom, and get the balance right. Each proposal will be considered carefully and respectfully before any final decisions are taken.
The report added that if the recommended laws were to be enforced, amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act should only apply to new enrolments in schools.
The schools in question should also have a publicly available policy outlining their position on discriminating against students and teachers and should regard the best interests of the child as the ‘primary consideration of its conduct’.
The review does not recommend any changes to the Marriage Act or suggest a dedicated Religious Freedom Act, and the panel did not accept that businesses should be allowed to refuse services on religious grounds.
The panel said that refusing services would ‘unnecessarily encroach on other human rights’ and ‘may cause significant harm to vulnerable groups’.
Morrison said religious freedom laws are needed to safeguard the ability to express faith.
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