Arch­bishop apol­o­gises for hurt to gays

The Australian - - THE NATION - JOE KELLY

The Angli­can Arch­bishop of Syd­ney, Glenn Davies, has apol­o­gised for the dis­tress caused by a let­ter signed by the heads of Angli­can schools call­ing on the govern­ment to de­fend re­li­gious free­doms.

In a state­ment is­sued yes­ter­day af­ter­noon, Dr Davies said the let­ter — sent last week to all fed­eral MPs — had the “un­for­tu­nate con­se­quence of af­fect­ing many gay stu­dents and teach­ers in our schools”.

The apol­ogy came as La­bor’s le­gal af­fairs spokesman Mark Drey­fus at­tacked the govern­ment for mis­han­dling its re­sponse to the re­view of re­li­gious free­doms led by for­mer Lib­eral at­tor­ney-gen­eral Philip Rud­dock.

Dr Davies said he was “deeply sorry” for any hurt caused to gay staff or stu­dents, but ar­gued that the re­sponse high­lighted the need for the Coali­tion and La­bor to work to­gether to over­haul and strengthen pro­tec­tions for re­li­gious free­doms.

The Aus­tralian ex­clu­sively re­vealed the con­tents of the let­ter — signed by the heads of the 34 Syd­ney Angli­can dio­cese schools — in which they called for re­li­gious pro­tec­tions to be framed as a “pos­i­tive” right rather than a “neg­a­tive” right.

This is be­cause the pro­tec­tions are ex­pressed as “ex­emp­tions” in the Sex Dis­crim­i­na­tion Act.

In­stead of up­hold­ing the abil­ity of faith-based schools to pro­mote their own ethos and val­ues, re­li­gious ed­u­ca­tors are given the right to “dis­crim­i­nate” in cer­tain cir­cum­stances.

In his state­ment, Dr Davies ac­knowl­edged the let­ter had cre­ated con­fu­sion in Angli­can schools but ar­gued that this un­der­scored the need for re­form.

“This past week has demon­strated it is un­ten­able that re­li­gious free­doms be ex­pressed as ex­emp­tions in dis­crim­i­na­tion acts,” he said.

“Some ex­emp­tions, such as those re­lat­ing to sex­u­al­ity, we do not use and have no wish to pre­serve. But the mere fact these re­main on the statute books has alarmed peo­ple.

“There­fore, I have ap­proached the govern­ment and the op­po­si­tion for an im­me­di­ate bi­par­ti­san ap­proach which would re­move these ex­emp­tions and cre­ate leg­is­la­tion which pro­vides a pos­i­tive pro­tec­tion for free­dom of reli­gion.”

Dr Davies said some of the prin­ci­pals of the 34 Angli­can schools had told him of the “dis­tress the let­ter has caused”.

“There were fears that gay stu­dents were go­ing to be ex­pelled or gay teach­ers sacked,” he says. “This re­ally sad­dens me. Our schools do not ex­pel stu­dents or dis­miss staff on the ba­sis of their sex­u­al­ity, nor have they ever wanted this right.”

Writ­ing for The Aus­tralian ear­lier this week, Dr Davies said the cur­rent sys­tem of ex­emp­tions was “mis­lead­ing, con­fus­ing and to­tally un­sat­is­fac­tory” be­cause it “im­me­di­ately frames the de­bate in terms of sex and dis­crim­i­na­tion”.

The let­ter was aimed at sound­ing the alarm on a push by La­bor and Greens MPs to re­move key ex­emp­tions in the Sex Dis­crim­i­na­tion Act. If suc­cess­ful, this push would have re­moved the abil­ity of re­li­gious schools to dis­crim­i­nate against teach­ers on the ba­sis of their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion.

The prin­ci­pals clar­i­fied in their open let­ter that they did not want to dis­crim­i­nate against gay teach­ers, but warned that the ex­emp­tion was the “only sig­nif­i­cant” le­gal pro­tec­tion for schools.

At­tor­ney-Gen­eral Chris­tian Porter told The Aus­tralian: “It has al­ways been and con­tin­ues to be the govern­ment’s in­ten­tion to en­gage in a bi­par­ti­san process around this is­sue.”

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