Problems with ALP bill: Letter from professor Mark Sneddon

This letter from Mark Sneddon is background information for Eternity’s story on how Labor, the Greens and the Coalition are trying to solve the schools discrimination issue, from December 2018. 

Dear Colleagues

You are probably aware that on Monday 3 December the Senate will debate an ALP Bill to amend the Sex Discrimination Act to remove existing exemptions for religion and restrict the freedom of religious schools.

What you may not be aware of is that this Bill has much wider effects. It will also:

–  restrict the freedoms of religious adult education colleges including theological colleges and religious institutions for training missionaries, chaplains, youth workers etc; and

– apply to the acts and practices of a religious body (such as a church, temple, mosque or synagogue) which are connected with the provision of education by that body – this would seem broad enough to include sermons, and any education based on the Bible, the Koran, the Torah and other scriptures to adults, youth and children in the religious body, whether general scripture education or education applied to topics like relationships, marriage and sexuality.

Currently the Bill seems likely to pass the Senate, perhaps with some government amendments. It would then move to the House of Representatives later next week where the government does not have a guaranteed majority and it may pass that house also, becoming law.

The purpose of this email is to alert you to the wider application of the Bill for religious freedom and to ask you to tell your people and to contact your Senators and MHRs urgently to oppose this Bill .

Some examples of the Bill’s effects are as follows.

1.Religious schools and theological and adult training colleges

If a religious school, theological college or adult education institutions acting on the basis of its religious beliefs:

refuses to admit students or expel them or impose any other detriment on a student because of the student’;s relationship status, sexual orientation or gender identity;
refuses permission for a sexually active student (straight or gay) or gender transitioning student to run a club or publish posters or webpages at the school or college advocating for sex outside marriage (straight or gay) or fluid gender ideology; or
refuses permission for a same sex oriented student to take a same sex romantic partner to a school or college function; or
requires a male student who wishes to publicly identify as female and whose appearance is male and has not had sex reassignment or cosmetic surgery to use the male change rooms and toilets rather than the female ones, and to be addressed by the male pronoun;
the school or college is “subjecting the student to a detriment” on the grounds of relationship status or sexual orientation or gender identity and can be sued under s.21 of the Sex Discrimination Act.

2. Religious bodies like churches, mosques, synagogues and temples engaging in acts or practices in connection with the provision of education by the body eg sermons, religious instruction, scripture classes

A religious body could discriminate in the provision of education services by it (or the facilities through which they are provided) under s.22 of the Act in several ways:

(a) by the manner in which the religious body provides the other person with those services or makes those facilities available to the other person (e.g. the manner of the sermon or scripture teaching is discriminatory because the content of the teaching based on sacred scriptures is critical of same sex marriage or of the behaviour of those having sex outside marriage (straight or gay) but not of other forms of sexual behaviour, or because the teaching criticises the idea and practice of gender transitioning).

(b) by refusing to provide a person with those services or to make those facilities available to the other persons (e.g. the religious body provides separate training on marriage, relationships and sexuality to men only and women only groups, or refuses to provide training on relationships to people known to be actively engaged in extramarital sex);

(c)  in the terms or conditions on which the religious body provides the other person with those services or makes those facilities available (e.g. the religious body requires attendees at the training to affirm that they are living godly lives in accordance with the teachings of the religion including on relationships and sexuality).

Such discrimination can lead to a complaint and lawsuit under the Sex Discrimination Act if the Bill is passed.

Additional Resources

I attach a more detailed paper I have written in my capacity as the Executive Director of the Institute for Civil Society and you can read our work on the issue at and on Facebook

Mark Fowler had an excellent article about this in the Australian newspaper on 1 December

Freedom for Faith’s Facebook page has recent posts on this issue including posts from pastors and others about their conversations with and letters written to MPs protesting about this Bill

Professor Neil Foster has some excellent recent blogs on this Bill and the Coalition’s proposed amendments at his Law and Religion blog:

The Gospel Coalition presents a Christian perspective on the Bill

Why Australian Religious Freedom Is Under Legal Threat


The Coalition Senator’s dissenting report in the Senate Committee inquiry into exemptions and faith based schools is a useful resource – Legislative exemptions that allow faith-based educational institutions to discriminate against students, teachers and staff

Please consider carefully, pray and act.

The position of cross-bench Senators and MHRs will be important this week. If you are able to contact them that would be most helpful.

Kind regards

Professor Mark Sneddon

Adjunct Professor of Law Monash University

Executive Director, Institute for Civil Society

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