Australia has a very strong connection to its religious beliefs. Since its colonisation, there has always been an undercurrent of religious doctrine that define the laws of this country. Now, on the verge of the religious freedom review that is currently being hotly debated by parliament, religious schools across the country could now have the power to refuse admission to young students, or have the power to eliminate positions for teachers based solely on their sexual orientation or gender non-conformity.
When does a person’s right to express their faith switch from religious freedom to pure discrimination?
There’s little-to-no doubt that people should have the chance to practice their faith and beliefs without judgement or ridicule – this is why the religious freedom laws should be recognised in the first place. But that doesn’t mean that you get a free pass to let your beliefs cause direct harm to another person’s life. Your religion does not allow you to hurt or belittle another person, simply based on their sexuality or gender. This is not the way we as a country should be.
At what point will we take a look at the people that this could be hurting? There are many queer individuals who might not be out of the closet yet who could now be kicked out of school, and subsequently outed to their friends and family simply for loving who they love. Let’s not forget the emotional and physical toll it could take on a young individual not only losing their chance at an education, which is a right every human should have, but also facing the damaging ripple effects that could emanate from such a drastic decision.
Taking away positions from fully-qualified teachers based on their sexual orientation could also lead to dangerous consequences for youth who are only trying to gain an education regardless of which gender their teacher is attracted to, or what they believe in. After the same-sex plebiscite, teachers in religious institutions were afraid to even voice their opinion with threats that their job would be on the line. Given the opportunity, it is an educator’s role to just teach the basic necessities. How does their sexual orientation factor in? Whether a person is queer doesn’t affect how they will mould a young person’s mind. It may just broaden it.
As more on the state of the policy comes to light, it has become evident that some people and organisations want to use the religious freedom act as a shield they can hide behind in order to defend their own selfish and dated ideals. This not only harms the laws that should be in place to protect religion but also to the other individuals who practice said religion free of judgement of one’s sexuality and gender. The report came to light after last year’s legalisation of Gay Marriage within Australia lead to Philip Ruddock and many other conservatives scrambling to protect what they deem their “religious views.” In reality, this has become nothing more than that of a bakery being allowed to refuse service to gay couples.
When faced with the report, Prime Minister Scott Morrison backed the decision to allow such discrimination to be dealt against queer individuals, choosing to assert his position by stating that there are already existing laws in place that allow religious institutions to discriminate against staff and students. How does this make it okay? Just because there are dated rules in place doesn’t mean we need to follow them. We should be breaking down old, biased laws and re-building towards a fairer future.
We’re now entering an age where people taking a stand against old laws and even older views, and we’re calling for reform. Many LGBTQIA+ groups have banded together to ask for reform on issues such as sexual discrimination against teachers and students, citing that many individuals have already lost their jobs or are unable to come out in fear that they could also be fired or treated unfairly. As a whole, we are coming together stronger than before so we can stand up to adversity at the beginning of what could be a long term change for the better.
As it stands now, the topic is still in the midst of heated debate over whether or not to allow this biased action to come to pass, which would be a huge step backwards for the queer community of Australia. However, this doesn’t mean we’re down and out just yet. As a community at large, we’ve grown quite resilient and we won’t let each other down when we’re needed most. For anyone out there that has lost their chance at an education or was rendered unable to do the job they love due to the limitations the religious freedom act exhibits, we will stand with you.