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2018- OCT/DEC: Religious discrimination in Australia & U.S.

Australian Government Considers
Whether to Allow Religious Schools
to Fire LGBT Staff & expell students.
Another NY Agency Discriminates:

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This topic is continued here from an earlier discussion on discrimination

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2017-NOV: The marriage postal survey results lead to the Ruddock religious freedom review panel:

On 2017-NOV-14, a national postal survey found that 61.6% of voters approved a future change of the federal marriage law by the Australian government to allow same-sex couples to marry. 1 This was a major step towards equality in the country. However, once same-sex couples are allowed to marry, some of them could find themselves unemployed or dismissed from school the next day. Federal and state laws are in place that allow religious schools to fire teachers and expell their students because of their sexual orientation. Marrying a person of the same sex is a good indicator of one's sexual orientation, and would immediately expose individuals who marry to discrimination by religious groups.

Responding to the referendum, the ruling Turnbull federal government asked Philip Ruddock to lead a panel to examine religious freedom in the country.

The panel consisted of:

  • Philip Ruddock, mayor of Hornsby Sire and former Liberal Member of Parliament;
  • Rosalind Croucher, the president of the Australian Human Rights Commission;
  • Annabelle Bennett, a barrister and former judge;
  • Father Frank Brennan, a Jesuit priest, human rights lawyer and academic; and
  • Nicholas Aroney, an academic. 2

The panel received more than 15,500 submissions! Many came from marriage equality groups and unions, who asked for the government to terminate the existing provisions in law that allow religious groups to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. Others came from religious organizations who asked for a religious freedom to discriminate act that would allow them to freely discriminate.

Christian Schools Australia (CSA) told the Ruddock review:

"Faith communities, including Christian schools, must be able to take action that separates individuals from that community when their actions undermine the community."

Webmaster's comment [bias alert]:

Actions that some people regard as undermining are viewed by other people as promoting the Bible's advocacy of the Golden Rule: for people to treat others as they would wish others would treat them in return.

David Marr, writing for the Guardian, said:

"More than most faith lobby groups, CSA is honest about the fate of gay kids in their low-fee schools: expulsion when required." 3

The National Church Life Survey found that between the years 1950 and 2016, monthly church attendance in Australia had dropped from 44% to 16%. 4 There is some evidence in the United States that policies of discrimination by religious groups based on sexual orientation is causing many teens and young adults to leave their faith groups and perhaps not return. Continuing to guarantee Australian religious groups' right to discriminate might well accelerate a reduction in church membership over time in that country as well.

The review panel issued their report to the government in 2018-MAY. Although the report is not expected to be made public until the end of 2018, Guardian News and Media has determined that the panel recommended that the federal Sex Discrimination Act be modified.

Paul Karp, writing for The Guardian, said:

"... for teachers, staff and contractors, the review recommended a right for religious schools to discriminate 'on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or relationship status' provided the policy is advertised. ... In relation to other matters, the panel said there was 'no justification' for schools to discriminate on the basis of race, disability, pregnancy or intersex status. ... The review also called for changes in federal and state law to make it unlawful to discriminate against someone on the basis of their religious belief or lack thereof. ..."

"The Morrison government has said the Ruddock review is a report to government, and no measures have passed cabinet or become Coalition policy [yet]. ... The proposal to extend religious schools’ rights to fire staff and expel students based on sexuality has caused strong pushback from Labor, the Greens and the crossbench that indicates it is unlikely to pass."

(The crossbench is a group of independent or minor party members of Parliament).

"[Most Australian] states and territories -- all but Queenslandand Tasmania -- let church schools get rid of gay and lesbian kids just for being who they are." 1

David Marr, also a Guardian Australia journalist, wrote:

"Let’s face it: throwing kids out of school for being gay is disgusting. Not for a long, long time has such an idea been respectable in this country. But in 2018, Philip Ruddock’s religious freedom review has kept it on the table.

This isn’t about freedom. It’s cruelty. ..."

"Busting gay kids in this way is a profoundly distasteful idea for secular Australians. It’s also too grim for most of the faithful in the pews. But as usual, politicians aren’t listening to them, only their leaders. Politics is supposed to be a numbers game, but when religion comes into the picture, politicians lose the power to count."

Member of Parliament [MP] David Shoebridge (Green Party) said:

"What makes that offensive position even worse is that MPs haven’t even had the courage to explain why private schools need the ‘right’ to expel gay students or sack LGBTI teachers. There has never been even a basic attempt to balance out competing interests of so-called religious freedoms [to discriminate] and the right to be free from discrimination. 3

The Labor Party has called for the amendment of the existing law so that religious schools are prohibited from firing staff who have a homosexual orientation.

Opposition leader, Bill Shorten, has said that exemptions in law that allow religious schools to discriminate against students and teachers should be removed. He said that he was pleased that:

"... both sides of politics are now united in the view that exemptions allowing religious schools to discriminate against children should be removed. ... I believe we can use this goodwill to go further and remove the exemption that would allow a teacher or school staff member to be sacked or refused employment because of their sexual orientation."

He said that, as a father, he tried:

"... to teach my children to treat everyone with respect, and to view everyone as equal. ... [Australia’s laws should reflect] the values we teach our children." 5

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Sponsored link:

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2018-DEC-07: Buffalo, NY adoption agency wants freedom to discriminate against same-sex couples:

The New York state Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) has a policy that requires adoption agencies in the state to consider all families equally when families apply to adopt a child. They prohibit agencies from discriminating against applicants on the basis of their marital status, sexual orientation or gender identity.

New Hope Family Services is a Christian adoption agency in Syracuse, NY. They have launched a lawsuit asking for the court to declare the state's non-discrimination policy unconstitutional and give them the right to continue their discrimination against same-sex couples. The agency is represented by the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), who specialize in religious-based discrimination cases.

New Hope's policy manual currently states:

"If the person inquiring to adopt is in a marriage with a same-sex partner, please get all of their information and tell them that the Executive Director will call them within the next 5 business days. (The Executive Director will talk to them and explain that because New Hope is a Christian ministry, we do not place children with same-sex couples.)"

In their brief to the court, the ADF explains that:

"New Hope has never denied an unmarried couple or same-sex couple’s application."

The agency simply tells the couple or spouse that they should not bother to submit an application. Thus, they feel that they are working within the OCFS guidelines.

They also state that the OCFS regulations show a:

"... hostility toward New Hope’s religious beliefs about marriage and the best family environment for children. ... [They will] lose some of its clients, including birth mothers, adoptive families, and foster families [if they are unable to practice their religious beliefs.]" 6

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Future developments on this topic are inevitable.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Paul Karp, "Australia says yes to same-sex marriage in historic postal survey," The Guardian, 2017-NOV-14, at: https://www.theguardian.com/
  2. Paul Karp, "Ruddock religious freedom review: what is it and what do we know so far?, The Guardian, 2018-OCT-12, at: https://www.theguardian.com/
  3. David Marr, "The right to expel gay children from school isn't about freedom; it's about cruelty," The Guardian, 2018-OCT-11, at: https://www.theguardian.com/
  4. "Irreligion in Australia, Wikipedia, as on 2018-AUG-20, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/
  5. Paul Karp, "Liberals split over Labor bid to end religious schools' ability to sack gay teachers," The Guardian, 2018-OCT-15, at: https://www.theguardian.com/
  6. Zack Ford, "Hate group files lawsuit to ensure adoption agency can discriminate against same-sex couples," Think Progress, 2018-DEC-11, at: https://thinkprogress.org/

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Copyright Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Author: B.A. Robinson
Originally posted on: 2018-DEC-12

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