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Religious Freedom: Where are we up to?

Parliament has closed for the year which means there will not be any changes to the Se x Discrimination Act (SDA) in 2018.

This extremely unlikely outcome is in no small part the result of the efforts of our schools, who have worked extremely hard to make sure our voice has been heard and understood in the Parliament. Thank you.

Many of us have learned a lot over the past couple of months as we have engaged in Parliamentary processes. We have had people meeting with local MPs, making phone calls, submitting to Senate Inquiries (thank you Simon Lainson!) speaking to journalists and appearing before their state Government (thank you Mike and the team in Tasmania!)

Representatives from our schools in Tasmania, appearing before their state parliament.

Through all of this, our hope has remained secure in our God who sustains all things.

Next year:

Between now and February, the Ruddock Review is likely to be released, and a Senate Inquiry will look at the specific legislation that was tabled over the past fortnight regarding faith-based schools. That legislation has not been resolved, only delayed.

We will be making submissions to the Senate Inquiry by 21 January 2019.

At the moment, some of the key fault lines regarding where lines should be drawn in legislation are:

  • Should schools be able to teach according to their religious convictions, if that teaching could be considered “detrimental” to students who are gay, transgender, from gay families, the child of a surrogate etc.?
  • Should schools have freedom to make their own decisions about how to best support and care for children who are transgender (while balancing the needs of the broader school community) or should they be compelled to accept and accommodate whatever a child requests regarding gender identity?
  • Should faith-based schools be permitted to require their teachers to uphold and live according to religious beliefs that include beliefs regarding sexuality, gender and relationships?
  • What particular behaviours amount to “discrimination”?
  • What of these freedoms/restrictions should apply beyond schools to other “religious institutions” like churches and synagogues and theological colleges?

As of yesterday, the Opposition have taken a position that they want to end discrimination of students and teachers in faith-based schools while still allowing schools to require that children participate in chapel and religious education classes etc.. There is some dispute about whether there legislation would also restrict teaching in churches, theological colleges and other religious institutions. Our legal advice is that it certainly would restrict teaching in those other settings.

We will provide more specific details of the legislation and the impact of particular clauses, next week.

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