Religious Freedom Review – details will be critical and LGBT students left waiting

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre cautiously welcomes the long-awaited release of the Religious Freedom Review, and elements of the Government’s response.

‘We are pleased to see the Government’s commitment to including religious belief as a protected attribute in anti-discrimination law. But the details of any Religious Discrimination Act will be crucial,’ said PIAC CEO Mr Jonathon Hunyor.

‘Better protection of the right to religious belief should not come at the expense of existing protections against discrimination. There is a significant difference between providing people of faith with a shield against discrimination and creating a sword to allow discrimination against others.’

PIAC is disappointed by the Government’s proposal to refer the issue of discrimination by religious schools against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teachers and students to the Australian Law Reform Commission.

In the past 12 months, this issue has already been considered by:

  • The Ruddock Religious Freedom Review itself
  • The November Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Inquiry and
  • The current Senate Inquiry into the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Removing Discrimination Against Students) Bill 2018.

‘It is deeply disappointing that LGBT students at religious schools are being made to wait for protection against discrimination. The solution to this issue is simple – remove the specific exception regarding students in religious schools, and make sure the general exception doesn’t apply either. Nothing more is required, and religious schools will still be able to impose reasonable requirements on their students to uphold their values,’ said Mr Hunyor.

PIAC looks forward to further detail about other aspects of the Government’s proposed Human Rights Legislation Amendment Bill, including amending:

  • The objects clauses of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, Racial Discrimination Act 1975, Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and Age Discrimination Act 2004
  • The Charities Act 2013 to protect organisations that advocate a definition of marriage that excludes same-sex couples, and
  • The Marriage Act 1961 regarding facilities, goods and services provided by religious schools.

‘These amendments appear unnecessary and have the potential to create adverse unintended consequences. It is not clear, for example, why charities who oppose marriage equality should have special rules apply. Once again the detail will be important,’ Mr Hunyor added.
Media contact:
PIAC Media and Communications Manager, Gemma Pearce – 0478 739 280

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