PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH WARNS MORRISON ON GENDER LAWS

The head of the Presbyterian Church in Australia has warned Scott Morrison that the ability of religious schools to insist on separate uniforms, sporting teams and toilets for boys and girls will be open to legal challenge under a government plan to outlaw discrimination against gay students.  John Wilson, the Moderator-General of the Presbyterian Church, has released an extract of a letter sent to the Prime Minister.  It reveals widespread concern among religious schools teaching 300,000 students about the unintended consequences of legislation aimed at better protecting gay students from discrimination.

The Coalition and Labor are trying to repeal an exemption in the Sex Discrimination Act that allows religious schools to discriminate against students on the basis of their “sexual orientation” and “gender identity”.  The exemption is rarely used for this purpose but is one of the only legal protections in federal law for faith-based educators.  Anglican schools have also sounded the alarm on a separate push by Labor and Greens MPs to protect gay teachers from discrimination, warning they could lose the right to hire staff who support their ethos.

The letter from Mr Wilson goes a step further.  It argues that schools should retain the exemption allowing them to discriminate against students, not on the basis of sexual orientation but on the basis of “gender identity”.  In his letter Mr Wilson says the removal of the exemption to section 38(3) of the Sex Discrimination Act could expose schools to an allegation of “direct discrimination” simply for upholding gender as being determined by biology or promoting to students a biblical view of sexuality.  “Prime Minister, you will know that gender distinction, and the binary nature of gender, is a foundational precept of the teaching of Christian faith,” Mr Wilson says.

“Currently, an exemption exists for our Christian and church-connected schools to keep distinctions such as: insisting on distinct uniforms for boys and girls, providing separate male and female toilets for comfort and privacy, building separate accommodation quarters (for boarding schools) and having distinct boys and girls sporting teams.  “The removal of the exemption clause in the act will make it possible for a claim of ‘direct -discrimination’ against such schools.  Why is it that the government wants to undermine the integrity of our much-loved and valued schools where currently more than 300,000 students across the nation are flourishing?”

Mr Wilson also flagged the issue to the 650 Presbyterian pastors around the country so they could inform their congregations of the problem.  In the blog, he said it was “harmful to children to encourage them to think of changing gender” and said society was “being fed a lie that the male-female gender distinction is not a biological reality but a social construct”.  The letter from Mr Wilson will increase pressure on the government to ensure it strikes the right balance in its response to the Ruddock review into religious freedom, which was leaked in the lead-up to the by-election in Wentworth, home to one of the largest LGBTI communities in the country.

Some religious schools want their protections framed in a different way rather than in the form of exemptions to existing laws that grant them the right to “discriminate” against key groups in some circumstances.  Mark Spencer, the executive officer with responsibility for national policy at Christian Schools Australia, which represents about 140 schools teaching 60,000 students, warned that religious educators could lose their ability to resist the introduction of radical gender theory in schools.  “Our fear is that if section 38(3) of the Sex Discrimination Act is removed, we may not even have the right to teach a biblical view of sexuality and sexual conduct,” he said.

“We don’t know where this will end and whether this will be really forcing us to have to teach a view of sexuality and sexual conduct that is inconsistent with our faith and beliefs”.  One of the possible solutions is to introduce a Religious Discrimination Act, a recommendation of the religious freedom review that Attorney-General Christian Porter will take to cabinet for approval.  The removal of exemptions allowing faith-based educators to discriminate on the basis of “gender identity” could also have broader ramifications if applied to teachers as well as students.

The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission has noted that employees “should be able to use toilets, change rooms and other facilities that are appropriate to their affirmed gender”.  “Allowing transgender employees to use toilets and facilities that are appropriate to their affirmed gender should not affect others in the workplace, and not allowing them to do so may be unlawful,” it found.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports.

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