Liberal Party senators in Australia on Tuesday (27 November) defended religious freedom protections for schools to discriminate against LGBTI students.
Opposition lawmakers say it contradicts the Prime Minister’s promise to protect students. On 13 October, Scott Morrison said his coalition would enact legislation banning the practice within a fortnight.
But the Liberals’ refusal to simply remove exemptions has stalled the bill. Labor on Tuesday said it would introduce its own bill.
Currently, some laws allow religious schools and other organizations to discriminate. But, some state-level laws ban LGBTI discrimination.
Divisions in parliament come as a Senate inquiry released a report on discrimination exemptions for religious schools.
Senators recommended exemptions be removed from the federal Sex Discrimination Act ‘to prohibit discrimination against students’ on grounds including sexuality and gender identity.
But, coalition senators released their own report recommending exemptions ‘should not be eroded unless adequate protections for religious freedom are afforded in their place’.
Debate over exemptions to discrimination laws for religious schools has rattled Australia. The government released a religious freedom review last month.
The government inquiry recommended anti-discrimination law should be altered to allow religious schools to turn away LGBTI staff and students.
— Anna Brown (@AnnaHRLC) November 27, 2018
Remove outdated laws
Rights groups urged the lawmakers to listen to the Senate inquiry and amend the Sex Discrimination Act.
‘There are only two sitting weeks left for the Australian Parliament’ said Anna Brown of the Human Rights Law Centre.
‘The Prime Minister made a clear promise to remove discrimination against LGBT students in schools as soon as possible. Now is the time for Mr Morrison to honour his promise’.
‘Broad exemptions from our discrimination laws allow religious schools to expel children. No kid should be feeling scared to walk through the school gates just because of who they are’, Brown said.
Advocacy group Just Equal also welcomed the Senate inquiry.
‘A school environment where LGBTI teachers can be fired because of who they are is a profoundly unsafe environment for LGBTI students’, said spokesperson, Rodney Croome.
He noted that the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act prohibiting discrimination against LGBTI teachers and other staff in faith-based schools had not curtailed their operations.
A group of 46 principals of religious schools in Australia, meanwhile, sent a letter to Morrison saying ‘religious exemptions that permit discrimination have no place in [their] schools’.
Thank you to the 46 principals of religious schools who signed this letter saying that “religious exemptions that permit discrimination have no place in [their] schools.”
— Janet Rice (@janet_rice) November 27, 2018