Call to give religious schools the right to ban gays fraught with risk
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Call to give religious schools the right to ban gays fraught with risk

The Morrison Government must proceed cautiously on the proposal for religious schools to be given the right to turn away gay students and teachers in the wake of the legalisation of same sex marriage.

Commissioned in the wake of last year's postal plebiscite that saw 7,817,247 Australians vote in favour of gay marriage, the review was led by former Howard Government Attorney General, Phillip Ruddock.

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Australia's voters will be extremely unhappy with Mr Morrison and his colleagues if, as a result of this back door, the social grievance they so recently moved to eradicate by almost two votes to one was replaced by another as bad or even worse.

Yes, Australia is not just a secular society. And, as many commentators have been at pains to point out, many of our religious institutions have done, and still do, a great deal of community good.

Our health, aged care, social welfare and educational sectors would not exist in their current form without that intervention and support. But no amount of good works is enough to sanction institutionalised bigotry under the cover of religious belief.

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Any religion that preaches it is okay to actively discriminate against others on the basis of their sexual preferences should take a long, hard look at its own first principles and how far it is out of step with the Australian community.

Wednesday's social media reaction to Fairfax Media's overnight report was clear proof that almost a year on from the plebiscite feelings are still running high.

Online critics were quick to call the Ruddock review's recommendation out as an attempt to water down federal anti-discrimination laws and entrench institutionalised bigotry.

Others made the connection between this proposal and the debate over funding for non government schools. "I don't want my tax dollars being used to support homophobic bigotry" quickly emerged as a common theme.

The view any school which accepts public funding must adhere to the same standards and codes of conduct as our public schools is almost universal.

There were also strong concerns the proposal, coming at a time alarm about bullying, intimidation and harassment within schools is at an all time high, could directly impact on students' welfare during adolescence when issues of identity and acceptance are front and centre.

What happens to a student already enrolled in a religious school who enters puberty and comes to the realisation they are gay? Even if the school doesn't move them on the knowledge they are considered of lesser worth because of their sexuality would be traumatic.

While it is reassuring to learn many Canberra schools affiliated with religious organisations, including St Mary McKillop College and Canberra Grammar, wouldn't turn students or staff away because of their sexuality, the sad news is there are some elsewhere that might given the legal opportunity.

All of our schools, religious or otherwise, are obligated to teach students they are members of a tolerant society in which diversity is celebrated and individuals are free to go their own way.

Given this recommendation must have sprung from submissions to the Ruddock inquiry, it seems the only way to ensure all schools comply with this in deed as well as in word is by knocking it on the head as soon as possible.