Abandon flawed Religious Discrimination Bill and bring laws into 21st Century

10th August 2021 – Following reports of widespread discrimination in Christian schools in today’s Nine Papers, Equality Australia has called on the Federal Government to abandon its flawed Religious Discrimination Bill, and instead wind back exemptions to anti-discrimination legislation that allow for faith-based organisations to lawfully discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ+) people.

“Everyone deserves to live, work and study with dignity and respect”, said Anna Brown, CEO of Equality Australia.

“But right now, in almost every state and territory a couple of the same gender could be refused service by a faith-based organisation providing publicly-funded social services such as homelessness support or community services. 

“As the shocking examples in today’s media reveal, outdated exemptions to state, territory and Commonwealth anti-discrimination laws allow for LGBTQ+ students, teachers or staff to be lawfully fired, expelled or otherwise treated unfairly by religious educational institutions.”

Steph Lentz was a well-respected English teacher who was fired from her job in a northern Sydney Christian school in January 2021 because she was a lesbian. She said losing her job had a serious impact on her mental health and job opportunities, but has chosen to speak up now to prevent the
same thing happening to others.

“In my experience, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender staff are subjected to different standards of scrutiny and accountability than other staff. It is appalling that religious schools are able to discriminate against people because of who we are or whom we love.”

“I don’t want other teachers – or anyone – to experience what I’ve gone through. I don’t want students at Christian schools to have that kind of behaviour – the kind that disowns a previously valued member of a community for no good reason – modelled to them.”

Attorney-General Michaelia Cash has committed to introduce a revised Religious Discrimination Bill to Parliament by the end of the year. But critics within the Coalition, such as Warren Entsch, Dean Smith, Tim Wilson and Dave Sharma have raised concerns that the previous version of the bill went too far, with Warren Entsch publicly insisting he would cross the floor.

“Our laws should protect all of us, equally”, said Anna Brown, CEO of Equality Australia.

“Of course people of faith should be protected against discrimination, but the previous version of the Religious Discrimination Bill would have wound back the hard-fought rights of women, people with disability, the LGBTIQ+ community and people of minority faith, undermining judgement-free access to healthcare and inclusive workplaces.

“That’s why a broad cross-section of society – from business, unions, faith-based organisations, women’s groups and disability advocates – stood shoulder-to-shoulder in opposition to the bill.

“Instead of focussing on introducing new forms of discrimination to appease the conservative Christian lobby, the government should abandon the deeply flawed Religious Discrimination Bill and wind back outdated exemptions to existing anti-discrimination laws to reflect 21st century community attitudes.”

Media Contact: Tara Ravens 0408 898 154, tara.ravens@equalityaustralia.org.au