Should Religious Schools Be Able To Expel LGBT Kids?

Lawmakers in one Australian state are attempting to close a loophole in the law that allows private religious schools to expel LGBT pupils. And, of course, religious groups see this as an attack on their rights.

Independent Sydney MP Alex Greenwich, himself openly gay, is set to introduce a private member’s bill to the state’s parliament that would abolish exceptions for private religious schools that were carved out in the New South Wales Anti-Discrimination Act.

In a statement to Gay Star News, Greenwich made quite a compelling case for this change:

Currently in NSW students can cruelly be expelled for being gay. This is wrong and my bill will end this. The threat of expulsion for being who you are has a hugely negative impact on vulnerable LGBTI high schools students.

Nondiscrimination laws governing public schools expressly prohibit expulsion on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity, but until now it has been a given that private religious schools should be exempt.

It may not be a surprise to hear that many of the authorities presiding over religious schools are strongly against this move.

They claim that very few children are ever expelled for their sexuality or gender identity, but that it is important to preserve this so-called religious right.

”It’s exercised with great caution and consideration,” Ian Baker, acting executive director of the NSW Catholic Education Commission, said of the exemption. “The objective is not to punish, but to protect the rights of those families who send their child to a school based on a religious faith.”

“‘We couldn’t agree to the exemptions being removed,” he continues, “unless we could be assured that there’s an alternative way of guaranteeing freedom of religion, which is an internationally recognized human right.”

It should be noted however that not all religious school authorities are opposed to the change, with Len Hain, executive director of the Australian Council of Jewish Schools, quoted as saying, ”We do not see any practical limitation, or the imposition of any practical burden on that ability from the amendments deleting the specific exclusions to the Anti-Discrimination Act.”

Setting this amid the context of wider state law, NSW Attorney General Greg Smith has said, as of 2011 at least, that he would be open to reviewing the exception in the law and is said to be reviewing whether the administration will back the bill.

More widely, the Australian Parliament — whom it would not be beyond bounds to call predominantly socially conservative — recently extended the country’s sex discrimination laws to cover LGBT and intersex people. In so doing, they carved out broad exceptions for private religious institutions.

As you can see, this is an issue that cannot easily be answered by the current law framework.

MP Greenwich’s bill presents an interesting proposition: should religious freedom extend to being able to expel students on grounds of their LGBT identity?

Well, taken on the face of it, we might argue yes. Religious schools, if they are to exist at all (and sidestepping that very important question for the sake of brevity), should be able to hold students to the principles of their religious ethos and expect behavior that accords with those teachings.

But there’s the rub. This presumes that the parents enrolling their children in such schools might have known their child was LGBT at the time of enrollment.

Given that sexuality and gender identity may not fully emerge until well into mid-adolescence, allowing schools the freedom to expel pupils for being LGBT — a characteristic that an overwhelming body of evidence would frame as immutable — most definitely is punishing that child for expressing their innate sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

Further, and as MP Greenwich has also touched upon, while preserving freedom of religion is certainly of keen interest to all, it is unlikely that deleting this special exemption is actually going to be that injurious to the religious.

However, ending the possible stigma this exemption allows against LGBT pupils would improve life for LGBT pupils who prior to this would have felt and, according to reports, have felt that speaking about their identity or seeking help for a related problem could result in them being kicked out of their schools.

Further, even private religious schools do often benefit from public funds whether via grants, subsidies or by virtue of tax breaks. In most other areas of public spending, those funds are subject to the LGBT-encompassing nondiscrimination provisions, yet religious schools continue to hold powers to discriminate.

When weighed as such, the issue would appear to clearly balance in favor of deleting the exemption and ending the special privilege to discriminate that religious schools currently enjoy.

For, as Justin Koonin from the New South Wales Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby touched on, if as the schools claim they aren’t using the provision to expel pupils, why keep the exemption at all?

In fact, why not elect to be radical? Why not, without any legislative coaxing of course, decide to do something I am led to believe is also key to particularly the Christian ethos and specifically state that your religious schools will not judge on grounds of LGBT identity and concentrate on the business at hand: teaching.

Image credit: Thinkstock.


trina firey
Trina D. firey4 years ago

Too many corrupt things are allowable under the guise of religion. I believe that discrimination of any kind is a form of hate. It has no place in a church, school or other institution that claims it is linked to Christ.

Ana Marija R.
ANA MARIJA R4 years ago

well said, Bill E.

Romola Hunter
4 years ago

Religion has a lot to answer for it has been an excuse to torture and discriminate, it is time to accept that humans are not all the same.

Dee G.
DeShantell G4 years ago

How can any organization call themselves Religious or Christians when they discriminate against children just because they are gay, lesbian or transgender?!

They should be ashamed!!!

Paul M.
Paul M4 years ago

Much of the comment here has had some form of notion “if it doesn’t receive government funding …”. IN reality, this is like saying if the moon is made of cheese … There isn’t a single school, to my knowledge, that doesn’t rely on some sort of government support; I would say, neither in Australia, nor the US.

In Australia "Non-government schools receive just over half of their total gross recurrent income (57.2 per cent) from government sources... "

PER CHILD Government schools Catholic schools Independent
Australian Government 1 668 6 229 4 933
State and territory government 9 200 2 057 1 865
Private sources 680 2 918 9 437
Fees, charges, parental contributions 4272 383 8 468
Other private sources 253 535 969
Less deductions(a) 24 861 1 780
Net recurrent income 11 523 10 344

Paul M.
Paul M4 years ago

"Comments" stipped the layout of the stats, which makes them harder to grasp ... - fingers crossed this time ...

In Australia "Non-government schools receive just over half of their total gross recurrent income (57.2 per cent) from government sources... "

PER CHILD Government schools / Catholic / Independent
Australian Government 1 668 6 229 4 933
State and territory government 9 200 2 057 1 865
Private sources 680 2 918 9 437
Fees, charges, parental contributions 427 2 383 8 468
Other private sources 253 535 969
Less deductions(a) 24 861 1 780
Net recurrent income 11 523 10 344 14 456

Paul M.
Paul M4 years ago

Nikki J. Oh dear.
Have you looked at any of the previous posts that make your comment obsolete? The discussion of “Private”; it’s to do with government funding.

Many social breakthroughs have been achieved by challenging “rules” … black students allowed to attend school; black students allowed to attend “white” schools; girls allowed to attend school, etc;

What would Jesus do if he was sitting with a group of children teaching them and a new child came up and asked to join?

I’m not sure what you mean in your paragraph “Regulation of institutes is vital … before the majority.”, but I’ll try to give some coherent response … We have seen regulation of institutions used to curtail rights over and over, over the years. Institutions sometimes get it wrong. From 1607, Catholics were barred from holding public office in England. The institution of government refused the vote for women for a very long time. In Australia the indigenous population was only given acknowledgement in the census in the second half of the 20th C.

Finally “They will only exist if there is a market for them.” is a bit naive. Many systems have been able to remain in place because a very small market was able to maintain them … the Inquisition to name one.

ali a.
ali a4 years ago

If they do then they are not selling product they advertise "Goodness"

Robyn Brice
Robyn Vorsa4 years ago

These private faith based schools still put their hand out for public money so they should be treated the same as public schools in Australia. No child is allowed to be discriminated against for their race, their colour, their religion or their sexual orientation.
The Australian public school that my children went to were all inclusive and were very accepting of all kids from all different backgrounds, many of them had some form of disability. But the schools included all these kids completely in every way.
If a faith based school wants to dip their hands into public funding, then they should have to adopt the same ethic as everyone else and not cry foul or hide behind religion.
Simple as that.

Grace Adams
Grace Adams4 years ago

For the sake of the child, any child who turns out to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender in a school run by bigots would be much better off removed from such a school than being keep there. The main drawback to tolerating such bigotry is that such schools are likely to be able to indoctrinate heterosexual children into becoming bigots.