Australian Religious Bill Sparks More Debate

Australian Religious Bill Sparks More Debate
People gather for a special service of prayer and reflection at St. James Church in Sydney, Australia on Dec. 19, 2014. (Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)
Marina Zhang

The Australian Christian Lobby has stated that they will withdraw their support for the Religious Discrimination Bill if a clause allowing religious schools to discriminate against same-sex attracted and gender-diverse students is withdrawn.

The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs committee is hearing from religious groups, legal experts, and education representatives on Thursday as part of an inquiry into the proposed religious discrimination bill.

When questioned by the Greens Senator Janet Rice, the lobby's deputy director Dan Flynn said that removing section 38.3 of the Sex Discrimination Act was "not something that should be sorted out in a five-minute corridor meeting.”

Flynn's comments refer to allegations that several moderate Liberal MPs would support the religious discrimination bill should the Sex Discrimination Act be amended to withdraw that clause.
Section 38.3 of the Sex Discrimination Act currently does not deem discrimination of a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or relationship or pregnancy to be unlawful if it is made in good faith and done so at an education institution in accordance with the teachings of the religion.

Flynn stated that "no gay students" would be disadvantaged if it was passed, but Greens senator Janet Rice disputed the comment saying that this was because the schools already had the ability to discriminate.

"You would prefer to retain section 38(3) which allows schools to discriminate against to fire teachers to expel students on the basis of their sexuality and gender identity. You would prefer to keep that, and so if you had to choose, you'd prefer to keep that rather than see this bill," she argued.

However, Flynn said that was not the case.

“They are quite different matters. This bill actually gives people additional rights. It doesn't take away any rights that currently exist,” Flynn said.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Law Alliance's John Steenhof tabled several case studies of discrimination against faith-based including a Christian teacher who was fired immediately in New South Wales due to a conscientious objection to using names and pronouns for a transgendered student.

The teacher offered to teach another class or to seek other employment but was dismissed right away.

Rice denounced Steenhof’s argument stating that the “right to misgender a child” could put transgender and non-binary children’s life at risk.

"Are you aware of the level of mental distress, suicidal ideation, actual suicide of transgender and gender-diverse students who are not affirmed in their gender in their schools?" she asked.

Steenhof argued that the case was not around the “misgender” of students but rather a “balance between the deep, conscientious views of teachers and the rights of students.”

“In this situation, that balance was not struck well, because of an initial and immediate animosity towards the conscience of the teacher.”

He claimed that Rice was attempting to make the debate “highly emotive” and added that he was “happy to trade stories of the deeply emotional stories of people of faith who've been treated horribly and faced deep hostility.”

“I want to talk about real cases and focus on the aspects of religious discrimination, that this bill addresses, not issues about gender and other protected attributes that other laws have protected for a long, long time,” Steenhof said.

The religious discrimination bill is designed to protect those expressing religious beliefs provided that it is made in good faith and is not done maliciously or in ways that vilify, threaten or intimidate others.

Religious schools and organisations could also preference hiring people of the same faith but this would not be extended to hospitals, aged care, as well as places that provide or primarily provide accommodation.

Marina Zhang is a health writer for The Epoch Times, based in New York. She mainly covers stories on COVID-19 and the healthcare system and has a bachelors in biomedicine from The University of Melbourne. Contact her at