Most Aussies support religious freedom

Students from All Saints Catholic Primary School in Liverpool pray during Mass for All Saints Day. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

A poll showing most Australians support legal protections for religious freedom has coincided with calls to remove exemptions allowing faith-based schools to operate according to their beliefs.

The Newspoll, undertaken for The Australian newspaper, showed that 59 per cent, of the 1,717 people surveyed, favour laws to protect individuals and organisations—including schools—from discrimination because of their religious faith.

The poll comes as the government is still considering its response to the Ruddock review into religious freedom led by former Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock.

Sixty-five per cent of Coalition supporters, and 57 per cent of Labor voters, wanted greater protection for people of faith, the paper reported.

It was also found that 63 per cent of Greens supporters wanted stronger protections for religious freedom, and 50 per cent of One Nation voters agreed. Despite the findings, a parliamentary inquiry into the treatment of gay students and staff at religious institutions has advised repealing protections for faith-based educators in anti-discrimination law.

Archbishop Peter Comensoli has strongly warned against removing exemptions for faith-based schools. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

It has recommended removing an exemption in section 38(3) of the Sex Discrimination Act which allows religious schools to discriminate against students and staff based on their gender identity and sexual orientation.

Both the government and the Opposition have indicated they would support removing the exemption from law.

Australia’s Catholic bishops have expressed their grave concern about the proposed changes.

“Catholic schools do not use these exemptions to expel students simply on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Archbishop Peter Comensoli, spokesperson for the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.

“These exemptions are important to us because schools want to maintain the capacity to teach a Christian understanding of sexual ethics and marriage according to our faith tradition.

“Our right to continue to teach Catholic beliefs is threatened by proposals to repeal existing faith-based exemptions for religious schools and institutions.”

“It is not appropriate to propose important changes to religious freedom law before we have seen the report of the review led by Philip Ruddock,” he said.