Legal experts say proposed discrimination law amendments will fail to protect LGBT children at religious schools

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November 8, 2018

In an open letter to Attorney-General Christian Porter, leading legal academics and anti-discrimination law practitioners have strongly criticised aspects of the proposed amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (SDA) designed to deal with discrimination by religious schools against LGBT students.

‘We need changes to protect LGBT students from discrimination by religious schools, but this proposal fails to do that. Instead of simply removing existing exemptions for religious schools, these changes introduce unnecessary complexity and confusion and undermine the protection provided by the Sex Discrimination Act’, said PIAC CEO, Jonathon Hunyor.

‘Kids in schools should be focused on classes and their homework, not living in fear of mistreatment because of who they are. All children should be accepted for who they are at school. Every school should be inclusive of all types of families,’ said Anna Brown, co-chair of the Equality Campaign and Director of Legal Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre.

‘We understand there is concern to ensure religious schools can maintain a “religious ethos”. But we don’t need to complicate the law or provide special rules for religious schools to allow this. The current law already allows for schools to impose conditions on students to promote the school’s values, provided such conditions are reasonable,’ said Mr Hunyor.

‘The proposed amendments add unnecessary complexity to an already complicated area of law and add religious susceptibilities as a special matter to be considered to justify discrimination against kids. This drafting fails to deliver on the government’s commitment to protect LGBT students from discrimination,’ said Ms Brown.

‘The test for indirect discrimination is already very broad and allows a school to demonstrate their conduct is reasonable in the circumstances. Adding religious sensitivities as a further matter to be considered distorts this test in a dangerous way and fails to keep students safe,’ added Ms Brown.

The proposals come in the context of a broader debate about religious exemptions and discrimination law, PIAC and the Human Rights Law Centre have urged the Government to wind back exemptions for religious organisations that allow them to discriminate against LGBTI people in education, employment and providing goods and services.

‘Discrimination law is notoriously complex. The proposed changes add another level of unnecessary complexity. Anything more than a simple repeal of the exemptions for religious schools should be rejected,’ said Mr Hunyor.

The letter proposes an alternative, simpler way to amend the SDA to ensure that religious schools are not able to discriminate against students on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

You can read the letter here.

Media contacts:

PIAC Media and Communications Manager, Gemma Pearce – 0478 739 280

Human Rights Law Centre, Director of Communications – Michelle Bennett – 0419 100 519

 

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