Weekend Wrap for 31 March 2024

Welcome to the NSL Weekend Wrap for 31 March 2024, where you can catch up on the latest secular-related news from around the country.

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At the National Level

Many faith-based schools have argued they don’t discriminate against LGBTQ students, and say there’s little evidence to support claims they do. They say their priority is hiring staff who reflect the religious beliefs of their community, and have rebelled against last week’s law reform commission report because it undermines their school’s identity. “Catholic schools are not seeking the right to discriminate based on personal attributes, but rather to maintain their religious identity and mission,” said National Catholic education executive director Jacinta Collins. “If individuals do not support our ethos, they are able to choose another school for enrolment or employment. This is what a free, pluralistic society is about.” LGBTQ advocacy groups, however, say the special exemption for schools in the Sex Discrimination Act must be scrapped without delay. Equality Australia on Monday published a report detailing stories of more than 20 LGBTQ Australians who have been fired, expelled or discriminated against in religious schools, to show the exemption to discrimination law continues to hurt people. (25 Mar 2024)
Read more at The Age

Allegations of discrimination against teachers, students, aged care residents and others are the subject of a damning new report on religious schools and organisations. An investigation by Equality Australia found LGBTQ+ students are more likely to be discriminated against than supported at independent schools. And, it also found 10 percent of faith-based aged care and social service organisations publicly discriminate against LGBTQ+ people. (25 Mar 2024)
Listen to this piece at ABC News

The Greens say they’re willing to horse trade over religious discrimination laws but concede their only interest is in protecting queer and transgender students, after Anthony Albanese left open the option of negotiating a deal with the minor party. With Labor MPs concerned about religious discrimination reforms that could offer greater protections to LGBTQI+ students being killed off in this term, the Prime Minister changed his position on the passage of the laws and said he would talk to the Greens if the party supported the rights of religious Australians to practise their faith. It came just one week after Mr Albanese declared he would only proceed with reforms to religious discrimination changes with bipartisan support from the Coalition. (26 Mar 2024)
Read more at The Australian

Key faith leaders are backing a compromise on religious freedom after days of angry dispute over a proposal to limit the right of religious schools to dismiss teachers and expel students over questions of sexuality or gender identity. The move came as Prime Minister Anthony Albanese hinted at a deal with the Greens to enact the changes after the issue arose on Tuesday in the Labor caucus meeting, where one MP expressed concern about the impasse in parliament on protections for LGBTQ children. (26 Mar 2024)
Read more at The Age

A government agency dedicated to the wellbeing of families has challenged faith leaders to do more to combat religious abuse. A new report by the Australian Institute of Family Studies suggests perpetrators of religious abuse are known to use sacred texts or ideologies to manipulate or control victims, who fear ostracism from their community if they speak out. The report is being welcomed by faith leaders who say no religion should be used to harm or control others. (27 Mar 2024)
Listen to this piece at ABC Radio

The Catholic Church “discriminates against women’’ and some Catholic school teachers are living “covert lives’’, Catholic high school principals have told a legal inquiry. Catholic Secondary Principals Australia (CASPA) has told the Australian Law Reform Commission’s inquiry into discrimination laws and schooling that “inclusion should be for all students’’. “No discrimination should occur as Catholic schools will always be compassionate to staff and students,’’ it states. “There should not be any legislative ‘out’ for religious schools. (27 Mar 2024)
Read more at The Australian

Some religious chaplains in the air force hold “unacceptable views about minority groups, women [and] LGBTQI+ persons”, posing a mental health risk to members, the royal commission into defence and veteran suicide has heard. And part of a review commissioned by the defence department into the air force chaplaincy unit – quietly tabled as evidence to the royal commission – found tension between theology and values, “notably in relation to gender and LGBTI inclusion”. “Some chaplains perceived other chaplains to be intolerant towards LGBTI people, women and those chaplains who express differing theological views,” the review found. (27 Mar 2024)
Read more at The Guardian

Last week, Mr Albanese told his colleagues the government would only proceed with greater protections for LGBT staff and students at faith-based schools and protections for religious groups if it also had the support of the opposition. However, this week he insisted there were two pathways forward, and the government could either secure the support of the Greens or the opposition to push ahead. Just days out from Easter, about 40 leaders from different faith-based organisations have raised concerns about Anthony Albanese's change in position, declaring it would be a "betrayal of trust" if he worked with the Greens on the Religious Discrimination legislation. (28 Mar 2024)
Read more at ABC News

An LGBTIQA+ equality group is urging the Greens to use any negotiations with the government on religious freedoms to target the full range of faith-based services, including health providers, charities and schools. After Anthony Albanese signalled he could turn to the Greens on negotiations to secure changes to discrimination laws and new protections for religious institutions, spokesman for Just Equal Australia Rodney Croome said on Friday that religious discrimin­ation was not an issue limited to schools. “Publicly funded faith-based services, including hospitals, charities and employment agencies, have special exemptions in federal law to discriminate against LGBTIQA+ staff, clients and volunteers,” he said. (29 Mar 2024)
Read more at The Australian

Around the Country

WA: Getting an abortion just got a whole lot easier for West Australian women, thanks to laws which passed through parliament last year. After six months of waiting, the laws came into effect on Wednesday. Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson said the change was about making it easier for women to get an abortion earlier. The laws had not been updated in 25 years, and the government wanted to bring WA in line with other states and territories. (27 Mar 2024)
Read more at ABC News

Commentary and Analysis

ABC Radio National / Philip Ruddock: Will religious freedom reforms secure bipartisan support?
In late 2017 - just months after the same-sex marriage plebiscite - the Federal Government commissioned an Expert Panel into Religious Freedom to examine whether Australian law adequately protected the human right to freedom of religion. Fast forward to 2024 and this issue is still unresolved in the federal parliament. Last week the federal government shared the draft legislation of its religious discrimination bill with the Opposition with the Prime Minister indicating that he'd only proceed with protections if he could also secure bi-partisan support on changes to sex discrimination laws. Philip Ruddock, former federal Attorney-General and chair of the Expert Panel on religious freedom in the 2017-18 enquiry, comments on the issue. (25 Mar 2024)
Listen to the piece at ABC Radio National

RMIT University / Professor Anna Hickey-Moody:
Expert criticises report on proposed changes to anti-discrimination laws – calls for more youth representation
"The Federal Government is negotiating how to implement the changes recommended by the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) report on anti-discrimination law reform, with a bill tabled in parliament late last week. Professor Anna Hickey-Moody, expert in youth studies: 'A year later than anticipated, this report recommends Australia should ‘narrow the circumstances’ in which religious discrimination occurs, not outlaw discrimination. The proposed changes offer very little protection for same sex attracted youth in religious schools. Despite the fact that the ALRC state ‘students are at the centre of this inquiry’, the methods they have employed unfairly marginalise youth experiences.'" (25 Mar 2024)
Read more at the AIMN

Alastair Lawrie: Ending discrimination won't cause the sky to fall.
"Ahead of the release of Thursday's Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) report into discrimination by religious schools against LGBTQ students and teachers, the Catholic Archbishop of Hobart Julian Porteous claimed that "the proposed ALRC changes constitute a most serious threat to the existence of our schools". Christian Schools Australia have joined the chorus, expressing extreme alarm about losing their right to discriminate. We need to call this scaremongering out. The sky is not falling. What is being proposed is not new. The majority of Australian states and territories removed exceptions that allowed religious schools to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity years ago. The changes being proposed would ensure consistent, national protection." (25 Mar 2024)
Read more at Linkedin

Jack Waterford: We now need, it seems, a Voice for bigots
"...there is a big difference between protecting the right to freedom of beliefs and religion and protecting the right to discriminate. The former is a private right, even if it extends to being able to act in concert with others of similar beliefs, or to proclaim and proselytise beliefs in public. The latter is an activity, particularly when carried out by an institution, which affects the rights of others. One must respect the wishes of any citizens to live according to their beliefs and consciences, in an environment that gives general support to their religious principles. But that respect is not a licence to be a bigot. Nor can, or should it, give a general exemption to employment law for discriminatory conduct that would be illegal if carried out by a bank, or a shop, or perhaps government itself. The right to believe anything, and the right to use those beliefs as an excuse to ignore general discrimination laws are two different things." (26 Mar 2024)
Read more at Pearls & Irritations

Anonymous: I loved working at a Catholic school. But being true to who I was and who I loved took it from me.
"It didn’t take head office long to realise that we were in a relationship. When I returned to work, I was questioned about my sexuality and schooled on what to say to parents if they saw me out in public with my partner. I thought it especially cruel when my colleagues were told that they could not attend our wedding or give us any gifts. In the final meeting I had with head office, I was told that because I failed to follow the Catholic ethos I was in breach of my contract and could no longer apply for any promotions. My bosses said while they wished me to continue in my role I could also be terminated at any point without warning. The law in Australia needs to change. It must catch up with who we are as Australians and how we expect people to be treated. Religious exemptions that deny LGBTIQ+ people the same protections as those afforded to other staff and students are backward and unjust in any society that considers itself fair and free." (27 Mar 2024)
Read more at The Guardian

Sonia Hickey: Abortion Is No Longer a Criminal Offence Anywhere in Australia.
"This week marked a historic milestone in Australia, with Western Australia finally passing legislation which repeals the criminal offence of having an abortion, bringing the state into line with the rest of the country. The offence of abortion has now been repealed in every state and territory in Australia. Importantly, it means that a termination of a pregnancy can be treated as a women’s health issue." (29 Mar 2024)
Read more at Sydney Criminal Lawyers

Paul Kelly: PM’s battle to reconcile faith with equality.
"Albanese is trapped in what looms as binary politics – between religious education and anti-discrimination demands over sex and gender. A fortnight ago, Albanese said he would proceed only with bipartisan support from the Dutton-led Coalition – that is not going to eventuate – but this week Albanese raised an alternative option of working with the Greens to achieve the legal changes. This ignited a political fire alarm across religious education institutions. That’s because the recent release of the Australian Law Reform Commission final report on religious exemption from anti-discrimination law is widely seen within the sector as a far-reaching assault on religious freedom and parental choice. Delaying this bill is an existential issue for religious education. On the opposing side, progressives and the LGBTQI+ lobby ­insist that Labor must honour its past pledges and implement the ALRC recommendation to remove the religious entitlement to discrimination against staff and students on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or relationship status." (30 Mar 2024)
Read more at The Australian

Michael Bachelard and Lucy Macken: The Eastwood mansions that signal the vast wealth of the Exclusive Brethren’s Hales family.
"...investigations by this masthead can now reveal that, in the more than 20 years since Hales became world leader [of the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church], his immediate family have emerged as arguably the largest private owners of residential real estate in Sydney’s northwest. In recent years, they have coughed up more than $75 million on luxury homes and estates. Hales and his sons Gareth and Charles now live in three adjoining, multimillion-dollar mega-mansions built on two blocks of land each, which dwarf the substantial homes around them. They have also bought more than a dozen houses held in the Hales family name in the suburbs of Eastwood, Epping, Beecroft and West Pennant Hills alone. The revelation comes as the Australian Tax Office combs through troves of documents obtained after its Private Wealth – Behaviours of Concern team last week conducted an extraordinary “access without prior notice” raid on Brethren-linked company Universal Business Team (UBT) on March 19." (30 Mar 2024)
Read more at the Sydney Morning Herald

Events and Campaigns

Support Independent MP Kate Chaney's proposed laws dealing with the “telehealth problem” preventing access to timely voluntary assisted dying across the country.
Contact your federal MP and senators here.

Residents of NSW, there is a petition running that calls on the state parliament to run scripture (SRE) and ethics (SEE) lessons outside class time in NSW public schools.
View the petition at the NSW Parliament House website

The Australia Institute are calling on federal parliament to pass truth in political advertising laws that are nationally consistent, constitutional and uphold freedom of speech.
View the petition at The Australia Institute

The Human Rights Law Centre are running a website for those who want to support an Australian Charter of Human Rights & Freedoms.
Visit the Charter of Rights website here

A change.org petition has been started, calling for churches to lose their tax-free status and for "the religious influence of churches in Australian politics and society" to be limited. It's currently up to 30,000 signatures.
View the petition at change.org

Reason Australia are encouraging Victorians to email the state government asking to remove prayers from Victorian state parliament.
Read more at the Reason Australia website

Have you faced discrimination at a religious school or organisation? Equality Australia wants to know!

The Australian Education Union is running a campaign calling for “every school, every child” to receive fair education funding. Support the campaign here.

The Human Rights for NSW alliance has launched a campaign calling for NSW to pass a Human Rights Act.

That's it for another week!

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