For release: Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Freedom of speech and freedom of religion will be diminished in Tasmania if amendments to anti-discrimination legislation are passed by the Parliament, according to the Australian Christian Lobby.

The Anti-Discrimination Amendment Bill 2012, which is being debated today, would threaten the ability of religious schools to maintain their ethos, ACL’s Tasmanian Director Mark Brown said.

“In the same way political parties are able to positively discriminate in favour of people who share their ethos, religious schools should also have this right in order to preserve their distinctives,” Mr Brown said.

The proposed changes would deny schools the ability to select students according to the faith and values of students or their parents.

Schools could apply for an exception on a case-by-case basis but the requirements are onerous.

“The proposed changes to the Bill violate the rights of parents who want to educate their children a certain way, and the rights of those children who share their parents’ faith and values,” Mr Brown said.

“Article 18(4) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) specifically protects the right of parents “to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions".

“Faith-based schools should have the right to determine their enrolments according to their mission and purpose. This is to ensure that the religious ethos and community culture of the school is maintained,” Mr Brown said.

“Instead of case-by-case exceptions, there should be a general exemption allowing schools to select students of the particular faith of the school.

“Just as single-sex schools will positively discriminate in selecting students of one sex, schools which are set up to serve a particular faith community must be allowed to uphold the purpose and intent of their schools by selecting students of a particular faith, should they choose to do so,” Mr Brown said.

The proposed legislation would also expand the prohibition of conduct which “offends, humiliates, intimidates, insults, or ridicules".

Mr Brown said such changes would threaten free speech and open dialogue and increase unnecessary litigation, concerns which are heightened by the experience with anti-vilification laws in Victoria.

“ACL certainly objects to behaviour that incites hatred or ridicules another but to open the prohibition of offence to things like religious or political belief or sexual orientation is a threat to freedom of speech. Who doesn’t get offended or insulted at times by others’ differences of opinion? This is part of living in a democracy,” Mr Brown said.

“Censoring free speech based on hurt feelings is to trivialise discrimination and is political correctness gone mad.”