Despite PM’s 2018 Promise, Religious Schools Can Still Expel LGBTQ Students

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Morrison religious education

In the early days of Scott Morrison taking the top office, it came to light that there were exemptions set out within the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) (the Act), which permit religious schools to expel LGBTQ students, as well as sack LGBTQ staff and other contractors.

Via a 2013 amendment to the Act, which outlawed discrimination against LGBTIQ people, two of the newly protected characteristics – sexual orientation and gender identity – were also added to the pre-existing religious exemptions for schools that had mainly prejudiced women in the past.

The public’s attention was drawn to these laws when the recommendations of the Ruddock review into religious freedoms were leaked to the press in October 2018. And amid the outcry, the new PM could hardly contain his smirk, when he justified the measures to reporters as being “existing law”.

However, by the end of the week, the prime minister had copped so much flack over the issue that he resolved to amend the Act, so the exemption that permits the expelling of children from faith schools based on their sexuality or gender identity would be revoked.

Broken promises

Section 38 of the Act outlines that none of the protections contained in it renders it unlawful for religious educational institutions to discriminate against a student, staff member or a contractor based on their “sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or relationship status or pregnancy”.

In a press release dated 13 October 2018, the PM said “I will be taking action to ensure amendments are introduced as soon as practicable to make it clear that no student of a non-state school should be expelled on the basis of their sexuality”.

However, things seem to have gotten away from Mr Morrison, as blogger Alastair Lawrie points out, last week marked 1,000 days since the prime minister made this promise to enact the “simple amendment”.

Yet, while a majority of the public support an end to this special privilege, they also believe it should be revoked in terms of teachers.

In April this year, Sydney’s Morling College sacked teacher Karen Pack, allegedly after the Baptist institution received an email condemning her for being a lesbian.

Christian privilege

But rather than revoke one of these religious exemptions – which under the majority faith circumstances in Australia might be better termed Christian privileges – the Morrison government is continuing its push to legislate for more under the guise of the Religious Discrimination Bill (RD Bill).

Attorney general Michaelia Cash has indicated a new draft of the RD Bill will be released by December. The initial two iterations released in the second half of 2019 drew great consternation, as the laws prioritised the right of the religious to discriminate against others in line with their faith.

A pet project of the Pentecostal PM, the Christian Right of politics has been pushing for what it prefers to term “religious freedoms” since marriage equality became the law in December 2017.

And coupled with this is a broad push coming from conservative Christian elements who have been attempting to infiltrate the ranks of the Coalition in order to shift policies in line with the way they choose to interpret their faith doctrine.

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Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He's the winner of the 2021 NSW Council for Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Paul wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

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