Independent Sydney MP and Equality Campaign co-chair Alex Greenwich has written to the Anglican Church asking for an apology for the LGBTIQ community instead of lobbying for discrimination against gay students and staff in religious schools.
Last week, a group of 34 New South Wales Anglican school principals signed a letter to federal MPs demanding controversial exemptions in discrimination law stay in place until a right to freedom of religion is legislated.
But Greenwich has written to South Sydney Anglican Bishop Michael Stead asking for a formal apology from the church – which donated $1 million to the “no” campaign group Coalition for Marriage last year – for “harmful and damaging conduct” during the postal survey.
“Rather than defend and argue your view of so-called ‘traditional’ definition of marriage, you chose instead to target the most vulnerable members of the LGBTIQ community with full-page advertisements and television commercials attacking families with same-sex parents and trans and gender diverse young people,” Greenwich wrote.
“LGBTIQ mental support services recorded a spike in requests for support and high levels of distress during and after the campaign.
“It’s deeply troubling that instead of seeking to repair the church’s relationship with the LGBTIQ community, whom you knowingly harmed during the postal survey, your church is now seeking the power to legalise bullying against LGBTI students and teachers in non-government schools.”
In the Anglican principals’ letter, dated October 25, they argue for “the right to employ staff who support the ethos of the school” by saying teachers were also “powerful mentors” for young people.
The letter says it is a “reasonable expectation” that teachers not “undermine or denigrate the beliefs and teachings of the employing school”.
The schools said existing exemptions from discrimination law were “clumsy” but were “the only significant legal protections available to schools to maintain their ethos and values with regard to core issues of faith”.
“A more general positive right would be far better, but until such time as religious freedom is codified in legislation, the exemptions should remain,” the letter read.
Michael Stead told the Guardian he was happy to meet with Greenwich to discuss the issue but said the Anglican Church’s participation in the postal survey was being “mischaracterised” and Greenwich was “falsely accusing us of seeking to legalise bullying.”
“As the plebiscite revealed almost four in 10 Australians opposed to redefining marriage, it is clear there are deeply and sincerely held views on both sides of the issue,” he said.
“It would be more helpful to acknowledge this than to misrepresent disagreement as some type of misconduct which requires an apology.”
‘Not a licence to discriminate’
Greens LGBTIQ spokesperson Janet Rice questioned if merely being an openly LGBTIQ person is enough to “undermine or denigrate the beliefs and teachings of an employing school.”
If it is, “then that’s homophobia and transphobia, not religious freedom,” she said.
“The Greens support freedom of religion to be included in a charter of rights and I call upon the Anglican diocese of Sydney to support us in achieving that,” Rice said.
“But freedom of religion is not a licence to discriminate against LGBTIQ+ people.”
The debate over gay students and staff erupted after the leaking of parts of the Ruddock religious freedom review ahead of the Wentworth byelection.
It emerged a little-known legal exemption currently permits religious schools to broadly discriminate against students and staff on the basis of their sexuality and gender identity.
In response, Prime Minister Scott Morrison vowed to amend the law banning schools from turning away gay students.
But a bill to do so was delayed a week ago when Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said Labor wouldn’t support the draft bill because it was not a straightforward repeal of the exemption and included provisions that “go beyond what the government promised, with potentially significant ramification for LGBTI students.”