There is no push to threaten the enrolments of gay students
A week before the by-election in Wentworth, a seat with a high percentage of gay voters, Fairfax Media’s reporting of the Ruddock religious freedom review was shamefully misleading. It appeared politically motivated to harm Liberal candidate Dave Sharma’s vote next Saturday. The Sydney Morning Herald’s banner headline on Wednesday, “Secret plan backs laws to reject gay students’’, was cruel to young gay people and their families.
Joe Kelly set the record straight in The Australian the next day, reporting that the Ruddock review proposed the opposite — restricting the ability of religious schools to use existing laws to discriminate against teachers and students based on sexual orientation or gender identity. In a move likely to draw bipartisan support, Scott Morrison has already moved to ensure no student of a non-state school should be expelled because of their sexuality.
The Australian supports the strengthening of religious freedoms, including the rights of faith-based schools to teach their doctrines on marriage and other social issues. Such safeguards should have been agreed before last year’s postal plebiscite on same-sex marriage.
Fairfax Media’s misleading reporting, unfortunately, has set what needs to be a sober, sensible debate on to a misleading tangent. In reality, few if any problems have arisen in relation to religious schools refusing to accept LGBTI students. Catholic schools, for example, welcome students and staff from all backgrounds who are willing to accept the mission and values of school communities, as Brisbane’s Archbishop Mark Coleridge has made clear.
Wider issues are at stake, as Australian Catholic University vicechancellor Greg Craven writes today. Religious health and education bodies upholding their beliefs and healthcare workers opting out of assisted dying procedures are two of numerous matters that need consideration. The Ruddock review, sensibly, has called for the Human Rights Commission to help protect religious freedom. As the government considers the composition of a Religious Discrimination Act, a mature debate about protecting stakeholders’ interests will be vital.