The Anglican Church's public affairs commission (PAC) has told parliament that it backs removing exemptions in anti-discrimination law that allow religious schools to fire or kick out LGBT staff and students.
The public affairs commission doesn't represent the entire church or any particular dioceses, but is called upon within the church to respond to public issues.
A Senate committee is currently investigating the private member's bill introduced by Labor's leader in the Senate, Penny Wong, to repeal the exemptions.
In a submission to the inquiry, the church's public affairs commission chair Dr Carolyn Tan said the commission recognised that religious freedom and freedom from discrimination should both be protected to the fullest extent practicable. She said it was unfortunate that sexuality and religious freedom had been pitted against one another.
"It is unfortunate that protection of religious freedom has in recent times been linked
with discrimination on the grounds of sexuality and marriage equality when the real
needs for religious freedom are likely to be more significant in relation to such matters as the freedom to worship and refrain from work on certain days, the freedom to dress in ways consistent with religious beliefs and the ability to prevent the destruction of sacred sites and the like," she said.
"As always, legislative protection tends to be needed more for vulnerable and minority groups, especially groups whose views may be considered strange or unreasonable by the majority of the population."
Given that many Anglican schools have said they have no intention of discriminating against staff and students, and the broader community would see it as a denial of human rights were staff and students discriminated against on the grounds of their sexuality, the PAC supported repealing the relevant parts of the Sex Discrimination Act.
But Tan argued that other parts of the act must remain to allow ministers and others appointed for religious observance and practices to teach in accordance with their faith.
The PAC's submission comes in contrast with an open letter sent by the heads of 34 Anglican schools in Sydney to federal education minister Dan Tehan calling for the exemptions to remain.
The letter was condemned by past and current students of some of the schools involved, and a couple of the heads of schools subsequently backed down from the call made in the letter.
The committee is due to report back to parliament, assuming parliament returns before the federal election, on February 11. Prime minister Scott Morrison has his own legislation he has said would remove discrimination for LGBT students, but advocates say the legislation would still allow discrimination against students by forcing them to uphold the school's ethos on issues such as gender and sexuality.
The review into religious freedom, which sparked the whole public debate about schools when the recommendations were leaked last year, found evidence that LGBT staff and students had been discriminated against in religious schools.
In the government's response, Morrison said that proposed changes to anti-discrimination law would be sent to the Australian Law Reform Commission to report back in the second half of 2019, on the assumption Labor would not support the passage of the government's version of the exemption repeal.
Josh Taylor is a Senior Reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.
Contact Josh Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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