Ending LGBT discrimination at religious schools: PIAC evidence to Senate Inquiry

Appearing before a Senate inquiry yesterday, PIAC has highlighted the changes required to end discrimination against LGBT students, teachers and staff at religious schools.

PIAC CEO, Jonathon Hunyor said that the current approach in both the Sex Discrimination Act and Fair Work Act does not strike an appropriate balance between religious freedom and protection against discrimination.

‘Discrimination against students or staff because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender should be completely unacceptable in any school. The current exceptions for religious schools are too broad and our evidence to the Committee set out clear and simple amendments to ensure there is one rule for every school to ensure a safe and healthy environment in which our children can learn and succeed,’ said Jonathon Hunyor.

PIAC believes the religious freedom of faith-based schools would be more appropriately supported by allowing them to discriminate on the basis of religious belief in relation to the enrolment of students, and the employment of teachers and other staff, but not against people because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

Earlier this month, in an open letter to Attorney-General Christian Porter, PIAC joined leading legal academics and anti-discrimination law practitioners in strongly criticising aspects of the proposed amendments to the SDA that were reported in the media.

‘We remain concerned that instead of simply removing existing exemptions for religious schools, the Government’s proposed changes introduce unnecessary complexity and confusion and undermine the protection provided by the Sex Discrimination Act,’ said PIAC CEO, Jonathon Hunyor.

‘We think it is possible to ensure a clear and simple legal framework that better protects the rights of children and teachers from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity while supporting the exercise of religious freedom.’

PIAC proposes the following amendments:

  • Repeal section 38 of the Sex Discrimination Act which allows religious schools to discriminate against teachers, contract workers and students.
  • Amend section 37 of the SDA which provides for a general exemption for religious bodies to exclude religious schools from its operation.
  • Amend the relevant sections of the Fair Work Act which currently allow religious bodies to discriminate on any ground, so that such bodies can only discriminate on the basis of religious belief.

‘This approach provides protection from discrimination against students and teachers while maintaining the ability of schools to impose reasonable conditions to protect the school’s religious character and values,’ said Jonathon Hunyor.

Read PIAC’s submissions to the Religious Freedom Review and Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee Inquiry into Anti-Discrimination Exceptions for Religious Schools.

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