Religious discrimination protections bill in doubt

The legislation that would provide protections for LGBTIQ+ students in religious based schools has been thrown into doubt after Labor MPs indicated they may now have to vote against their own bill.

Debate on the bill is due to recommence in just a few hours in Canberra. The Centre Alliance have now indicated that they will vote for the bill but will also insist on an amendment put forward by the Liberals being included.

Labor sources have indicated that the proposed amendment may actually increase the ability for schools to discriminate against LGBTIQ+ students, something that they could not support. Labor MPs are now discussing the possibility that they will be forced to vote against their own bill to stop it going through.

Centre Alliance senator Rex Patrick told The Guardian that they would now be supporting the bill but it would include the following amendment.

Nothing in this Act renders it unlawful to engage in teaching activity if that activity: is in good faith in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of a particular religion or creed; and is done by, or with the authority of, an educational institution that is conducted in accordance with those doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings.”

Senator Patrick said the amendment was required to protect religious freedom in schools. The politician said parents were aware of the religious beliefs of the school they are sending their child to, and would be aware that a religious based school may be teaching that homosexuality is wrong.

Senator Patrick said it was not a concern that schools advocated that homosexuality was wrong as long as they taught it to all students.

“We’re trying to find a balance between ensuring students are not discriminated against, and being respectful of religious schools teaching a doctrine. It’s very clear that – provided all students are taught the same thing – there is no discrimination.” Senator Patrick told The Guardian.

Earlier this week the Centre Alliance teamed up with the government to shut down debate on the bill and delay a vote on the issue until 2019. Yesterday Labor reached an agreement with the government to resume debate on the issue at 12:00pm (AEST).

Prime Minister Scott Morrison vowed during the Wentworth by-election that within weeks he would remove the provisions in the legislation that allow LGBTIQ+ students attending religious based schools to be expelled over their sexuality. However the government has been unable to come to agreement with Labor about how the legislation should be worded.

Some government MPs have said they don’t support the changes being brought in. Liberal senator Amanda Stoker outlined her opposition detailing a concern that schools would not have sufficient protections from “activist students” and “activist parents” would may want to form “gay clubs” in Catholic schools.