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Australia: Tasmania passes ‘religious freedom’ bill allowing schools to refuse gay students

Australia: Tasmania passes ‘religious freedom’ bill allowing schools to refuse gay students

Tasmania’s lower house has passed a bill that would religious schools in the Australian state to refuse LGBTI students on grounds of their beliefs.

After a two-day debate, the House of Assembly Thursday (30 April) evening passed an exemption to the Anti-Discrimination Act, despite concerns that the measure would allow prejudice against LGBTI students and those with same-sex parents.

The government denied this but LGBTI rights advocates said it had failed to allay ‘legitimate community concerns about this bad legislation.’

‘This is a bigots’ charter because it will give religious school principals free rein to discriminate against gay and transgender students and the children of same-sex couples under the guise of their school’s "religious belief."’ said Rodney Croome, spokesperson for the Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group.

‘I think Tasmanians will recoil from the idea that some schools should have special rights and privileges that aren’t available to other schools or ordinary citizens, just because of their religious views.

‘Life is already hard enough for young gay people and the children of same-sex couples in religious schools without this kind of ideological move fostering prejudice and discrimination against them.

‘I believe the current law is working well to foster inclusive schools and my challenge to the government is to explain exactly why this change is needed.

‘Consistency with other states is an argument against this change, not for it, because the experience in other states is that children are being unfairly targetted if their parents are not in a married heterosexual relationship.

Croome said, as in other states, the proposed law would lead to lengthy and expensive court battles, where religious schools where they would have to explain what their religious beliefs actually are.

He added that it would likely violate section 46 of the Tasmanian Constitution, which protects every Tasmanian citizen from discrimination on the grounds of religion.

‘We will now work with other community groups to ensure our concerns are heard by the upper house,’ he said.

The bill will debated in the Legislative Council as early as at the end of this month.