Yesterday the Sydney Morning Herald released the 20 recommendations from the Religious Freedom Review headed by Phillip Ruddock, leaving LGBTI advocates and human rights experts concerned about future discrimination for LGBTI people.
Anna Brown, director of legal advocacy with the Human Rights Law Centre and co-chair of the Equality Campaign, said:
“Australians voted for fairness and equality this time last year, not more discrimination against LGBT people. Kids in schools should be worrying about classes and their homework, not living in fear of mistreatment because of who they are.”
The report recommends continuing to allow religious schools to discriminate against students based on sexual orientation, gender or relationship status under the federal Sex Discrimination Act.
“Australians want kids in schools to be protected. The debate this week shows that our views have changed since these religious exemptions were enshrined in law. The idea that taxpayer-funded religious schools should be able to expel a student who comes out is completely out of step with modern community expectations. It’s discriminatory and it’s just wrong,” said Ms Brown.
However, the report does recommend narrowing this exemption for religious schools under federal law, by requiring schools to prove the discrimination is founded on religious precepts, ensuring any discriminatory policy is made publicly available and the schools must take into account the best interests of the child as the primary consideration.
“It’s positive to see the report recognising that the broad religious exemptions which allow schools and organisations to discriminate against LGBTI people are unfair, but narrowing the ability to discriminate is not enough – these unfair laws must go,” said Ms Brown.
The report also recommends a religious discrimination act to protect people of faith from discrimination. Currently, people of faith are protected from discrimination in employment under the Fair Work Act and most states and territories but aren’t covered by federal anti-discrimination laws. However, the LGBTI community remains deeply concerned about the risks of any future legislation.
“The very genesis of this inquiry was the deeply flawed idea that equality for LGBTIQ people somehow poses a threat to religious freedom. We reject this utterly and remain concerned that conservative religious forces within the Coalition will be extracting their ‘price’ for marriage equality. There should be no price paid for equality,” said Ms Brown.
“We need strong discrimination laws to ensure equal treatment. People of faith should be free from discrimination in every community. At the same time, blanket exemptions that automatically privilege the rights of religious groups over other Australians must be avoided – particularly for organisations funded by taxpayers’ money,” said Ms Brown.
The inquiry highlights the need for Australia to consolidate and modernise its inconsistent and outdated anti-discrimination laws and introduce a Human Rights Act.
“The Religious Freedoms Review has brought to light the need for our anti-discrimination laws to be comprehensively modernised and consolidated in line with community standards. Our laws should apply equally, regardless of what your faith is, where you’re from or who you love,” said Ms Brown.