The ACT Government is moving to strip religious schools of the legal right to reject gay teachers and prevent them discriminating against anyone on the basis of sexuality, gender identity, race, pregnancy or intersex status, with amendments to the ACT’s Discrimination Act to be introduced to the Legislative Assembly today (1 November).
It said the ACT’s Discrimination Act would be amended to clarify exceptions for religious schools, ensuring discrimination is only allowed on the basis of religious conviction.
“The reaction to leaked elements of the Australian Government’s review of Religious Freedoms demonstrates that the Canberra community does not accept the notion that it is okay to treat people differently based on their sexuality,” Chief Minister Andrew Barr and Mental Health Minister Shane Rattenbury said in a joint statement.
“Religious schools of all faiths serve an important role and we support the valuable contribution these schools make to the diversity of our ACT community. However, it is clear that current exceptions allowing religious schools to discriminate against students and staff are out of step with community expectations.”
They said the Act as amended would still allow schools to give preference to students and employees on the basis of their religious conviction.
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The reforms had been based on discrimination laws in Tasmania.
“The right to religious beliefs is absolute, but the right to demonstrate those beliefs must be subject to reasonable limitation to protect other human rights such as the right to equality, to freedom from discrimination and children’s rights to be cared for and protected during their education,” Mr Barr and Mr Rattenbury said.
“As a community we all have a role in preventing the serious harm that discrimination can cause to vulnerable young people and their families, and our valued teachers and education staff.”
The Chief Minister last week flagged the changes, describing current ACT legislation regarding religious freedoms as a “legal loophole” existing between the Discrimination Act of 1991 and the Human Rights Act 2004.
The Catholic sector said that there was no need to rush to change legislation and that it was open to dialogue.