Australian religious freedoms report seeks to reduce discrimination

An Australian religious freedoms report which has reviewed religious protections in Australia says it should be more difficult for schools to turn away gay students.

According to Philip Ruddock, the author of the as yet unreleased document, the report suggests narrowing the scope of existing sex discrimination laws.

“We weren’t suggesting that the law should be expanded,” says Ruddock, who is a former Liberal MP.

“We were simply saying it should be contracted to ensure that that information was clear and unambiguous in relation to those who were seeking to enroll children.”

The review was established by former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

He hoped the review would pacify critics from the right wing of his coalition after Australians endorsed same-sex marriage in a national postal survey last year and the Marriage Act was subsequently changed.

Turnbull’s Liberal Party successor, Scott Morrison, who attends a Sydney Pentecostal church, has announced that the report – and the Government’s response to it – will be released before the end of the year.

Media comments on a leaked copy of the report early this month suggested the Ruddock panel had recommended that religious schools be given the right to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or relationship status.

However, it later emerged that those laws already exist in some Australian states.

Ruddock says his review recommends making the laws consistent across the country and forcing schools that do discriminate to be upfront about it by publicly stating their rules and beliefs.

“There may be a small number of schools who see that as a significant issue for religious reasons.

“Provided they make it clear, and abundantly clear, that they are the rules under which they’re operating, that should be the basis upon which it occurs.”

One senior Australian Catholic has rejected the need to strengthen religious protections in Australia.

The Vicar-General of the Catholic Diocese in Ballarat, Kevin Maloney, says those laws already exist in varying forms and the Church had not sought to change them.

“No, I’m not convinced that they need to be extended at all,” he says.

“I think we’ve got reasonable rights already. We’ve got probably more rights than we need anyway.”


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