The Rationalist Society of Australia (RSA) has applauded Victorian Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes for her government’s plan to stop faith-based institutions from sacking staff on the basis of their marital status, parental status or sexuality.
Despite fierce opposition from religious lobbyists, the Attorney-General (pictured) announced earlier this month that the Andrews government would soon introduce new legislation to remove religious exemptions from anti-discrimination laws.
In a letter to the Attorney-General last week, RSA president Meredith Doig welcomed the proposal and said it was now time for the state to “right a wrong” and prevent the exemptions from causing more harm.
She pointed to the RSA’s recent campaign to raise awareness of the harmful impacts of such exemptions.
“Such exemptions from discrimination laws have no place in modern Australia, and the RSA is working hard to challenge such religious privileging in other states like South Australia and Western Australia, who are in the process of reviewing their anti-discrimination laws,” wrote Dr Doig.
“For now, Victoria has once again taken the lead, and we thank you for your initiative and leadership.”
Ahead of the parliamentary debate, Dr Doig also urged the Attorney-General to recognise the widespread impact of the exemptions on many Victorians.
Although most of the mainstream media attention focuses on teachers and staff who identify as LGBTIQ, religious schools in Victoria can also take disciplinary action against a staff member for their marital status or parental status.
“A gardener at a school shouldn’t be sacked for having experienced a marriage breakdown. An admin officer shouldn’t be fired for being a single parent. A gay teacher shouldn’t lose their job simply for who they love,” she wrote.
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Si Gladman is Campaigns & Communications Coordinator at the Rationalist Society of Australia. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @si_gladman
Image: Jaclyn Symes (Facebook)
RSA letter to Victorian Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes, 21 September 2021
Subject: Religious Exemptions – Righting a Wrong
On behalf of the Rationalist Society of Australia (RSA), I’m writing to you to applaud the decision by the Andrews government to repeal the exemptions from discrimination laws that allow religious schools and institutions to sack or discipline staff for reasons including their marital status, parental status and sexuality.
Use of these religious exemptions causes much harm and hurt in communities across Australia, including Victoria – a message we at the RSA have been promoting in recent weeks.
A gardener at a school shouldn’t be sacked for having experienced a marriage breakdown.
An admin officer shouldn’t be fired for being a single parent.
A gay teacher shouldn’t lose their job simply for who they love.
We agree with you that people “shouldn’t have to hide who they are to keep their job”.
Earlier this month, teacher Samantha Cairns shared with us her story of being sacked from a Christian school earlier in her career simply for being gay.
“It was very damaging to me in a lot of ways and it has taken a long time to process and to heal through that experience,” she said.
While much of the media coverage focuses on the impact of religious exemptions on LGBTI people, it is important for members of parliament and the community to recognise that this is not just an LGBTI issue.
The use of religious exemptions has affected many other Victorians, hurt or harmed on account of their marital status or parental status.
A recent Independent Education Union (IEU) survey of almost 1,150 members working in faith-based schools in Victoria and Tasmania found that 51% of respondents reported having witnessed or been subjected to discrimination based on marital, relationship or parental status.
The legislation to repeal religious exemptions must – as we expect it will – include all the reasons that, for far too long, have been used to harm or hurt many Victorians.
Such exemptions from discrimination laws have no place in modern Australia, and the RSA is working hard to challenge such religious privileging in other states like South Australia and Western Australia, who are in the process of reviewing their anti-discrimination laws.
For now, Victoria has once again taken the lead, and we thank you for your initiative and leadership.
President, Rationalist Society of Australia