The Rationalist Society of Australia welcomes the West Australian government’s commitment to narrowing the ability of religious schools to discriminate under proposed new anti-discrimination laws.
Last week, the state’s Attorney-General, John Quigley (pictured), announced that the McGowan government would address the religious exceptions issues as part of an overhaul of the Equal Opportunity Act.
After tabling in parliament the Law Reform Commission of Western Australia (LRCWA) final report of its review into the Act, Mr Quigley said new legislation would “strengthen equal opportunity protections for LGBTIQA+ teachers and students in religious schools.”
The LRCWA recommended that Western Australia follow the Victorian example and restrict discrimination in religious schools to positions where religion is an inherent job requirement. Currently, WA’s Equal Opportunity Act allows for discrimination in religious schools where it is done “in good faith in order to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion or creed.” This allows discrimination against gay teachers and students.
RSA president Dr Meredith Doig said the commitment to narrowing religious exceptions for schools was a welcome development. Last month, the RSA wrote to Mr Quigley to urge him to show courage and follow the lead of other states, such as Victoria, in committing to take action on the religious exceptions issue.
“We’re pleased to see that the McGowan government has listened to the community’s feedback on the religious exceptions issue and has pledged to adopt the recommendation in relation to exceptions in religious schools,” she said.
“Discrimination such as this causes much harm in the West Australian community and is simply no longer appropriate for our modern society. Religion should not be accepted as an excuse for harming others”
Dr Doig also welcomed the LRCWA’s recommendation for stronger recognition for non-religious people.
In recommendation 51, the report suggests the definition of ‘religious conviction’ should include “not having a religious conviction, belief, opinion or affiliation” and “not engaging in religious activity”. This is consistent with the principle of genuine secularism – i.e., that differing worldviews, be they religious or non-religious, should be treated equally under the law.
In our submission to the LRCWA review process last year, we asked that revisions to the Equal Opportunity Act make it clear that discrimination on the basis of absence of religious belief, conviction or activity should be prohibited. Currently, the Act merely provides that “religious or political conviction shall be construed so as to include a lack or absence of religious or political conviction.”
The RSA has also recently put the issue of religious exceptions on the radar of new South Australian Attorney-General Kyam Maher, who, in response, said he would be giving “further consideration” to the matter.
Si Gladman is Campaigns & Communications Coordinator at the Rationalist Society of Australia. You can contact him at sigl[email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @si_gladman
Photo: John Quigley (Facebook)