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Religious freedom will be suffocated if ALP elected

By Pat Byrne - posted Friday, 17 May 2019


It is a sad reality that in Australian law there is an absence of strong protections for freedom of belief. Indeed, as some leading lawyers have commented, religious freedom has been reduced to tenuous exemptions in anti-discrimination laws introduced since the 1980s.

Now, key exemptions in the federal Sex Discrimination Act (SDA), that allowed faith-based schools to enrol and employ people according to their religious beliefs, are under serious threat.

The Labor Party and the Greens are committed to removing these exemptions in the next Parliament.

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The SDA was originally passed in 1984 to protect women from discrimination, particularly in the workplace. It meant, for example, that no longer could a woman be sacked because she became pregnant.

However, in 2013, the federal Labor government fundamentally changed the Act to make gender identity and sexual orientation protected attributes.

This means that a person who identities as a member of the sex opposite to his or her biological sex, or as having a non-binary gender identity such as pangender, gender queer, androgynous, or some other self-defined identity, has certain defined protections under the Act.

As the SDA covers state schools, state governments fell into line by implementing wide-ranging policies that oblige principals and teachers to allow a boy, who has only to self-identify as female to be legally recognised as a girl, to access girls' toilets, showers, change rooms, dormitories, sport and camps.

A NSW Department of Education Legal Issues Bulletin says that the risks in these policies are "high".

In dot points, it requires that: "… Doors [be] provided to change-room cubicles of their identified gender. Student must change in cubicle. Staff to monitor length of time in change room. Staff and student to report any incidents in the change room to Principal … Zero tolerance to 'skylarking' in change rooms …"

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The South Australian policy explicitly warns principals and teachers that they may "breach anti-discrimination legislation" if they fail to provide transgender students with access to appropriate toilet and change facilities, saying school autho­rities risk discrimination charges for failure to comply with these policies. They risk legal penalties and possible loss of professional accreditation and employment.

'Safe Schools'

The 2013 changes to the SDA were also behind an $8 million grant by the then Labor government to expand the controversial Safe Schools Coalition's sexually charged anti-bullying program. In turn, Safe Schools justified promoting gender fluidity to students based on the fact that the SDA gave legal recognition to a person's gender identity, in place of their sex.

Faith-based schools were not obliged to adopt such policies and programs as the SDA granted exemptions to religious organisations.

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This article was first published by NewsWeekly.



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About the Author

Patrick J Byrne is national vice president of the National Civic Council. He writes in the NCCs magazine News Weekly on foreign affairs, economic, rural and social issues.

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