Four out of five Australians oppose laws that allow gay, lesbian and transgender students and teachers to be expelled or fired by religious schools, according to a new poll.
The YouGov Galaxy poll, commissioned by LGBTI advocacy group Just.equal, found that 82% opposed existing exemptions in anti-discrimination law that allow the expulsion of gay and lesbian students and 79% opposed the schools’ ability to fire teachers if they marry their same-sex partner.
Seventy-eight percent of the poll’s 1015 respondents opposed religious schools’ ability to fire transgender staff or expel transgender students.
A similar proportion (79%) said religious schools shouldn’t be entitled to public funding if they discriminated against staff or students.
Two in three Australians (69%) said discrimination laws should not be changed to allow religious people to refuse their services to same-sex weddings.
Just.equal spokesperson Rodney Croome said the polling shows Australians “emphatically reject discrimination against LGBTI people in the name of religion, even more emphatically than they supported marriage equality.”
“The message to the Government and the Labor Party is that Australians want less discrimination against LGBTI people in the name of religion, not more,” he said.
The religious freedom review, headed by Philip Ruddock, is due to report on 18 May, but The Guardian reported on Monday it is expected to be extended to the end of the month.
Croome said Just.equal will begin lobbying politicians to tighten existing exemptions allowing discrimination against LGBTI people.
“We will lobby government members to ensure they oppose further discrimination, but we will also focus on Labor to ensure it opposes any retrograde recommendations from the Ruddock inquiry,” he said.
Earlier this year, deputy opposition leader Tanya Plibersek said Labor has no plans to remove existing religious exemptions that allow schools to hire and fire staff based on their sexuality
LGBTIQ advocates have previously raised concerns that the review’s findings will undermine current anti-discrimination laws protecting the LGBTIQ community.
Advocacy group just.equal urged the creation of a national bill of rights to protect both religious freedom and LGBTIQ people from discrimination.
Christian Schools Australia argued in their submission that existing religious exemptions should be widened to give religious schools a legal form of “differentiation” – rather than an exemption to discrimination law – with which they can hire and fire staff based on their adherence to religious codes.
The organisation warned in their submission that “removing the ability of Christian schools to employ staff who share the school’s values and beliefs would undermine the essential nature of the school”.
“If freedom of religion is to remain a legitimate hallmark of Australian education then the rights of school communities to operate in accordance with religious beliefs must be upheld,” they wrote.
“This must include the right to choose all staff based on their belief in, and adherence to, the beliefs, tenets and doctrines of the religion concerned.”
In November, the principal of a Perth Baptist school defended the school’s decision to let a relief teacher go after he revealed his sexuality in a Facebook post.
The Equality Campaign said in their submission to the review that the cross-party same-sex marriage bill “struck a fair balance and should not be revisited” and called for all of the amendments to broaden religious exemptions – introduced and struck down during the parliamentary marriage equality debate – to be rejected and not revisited.