Faith-based schools in Australia can already legally select students based on sexual orientation, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said as a debate raged over a controversial religious freedom proposal to enshrine that right in federal law leaked this week.
A Fairfax Media report revealed late Tuesday that a religious freedom review panel chaired by former Liberal minister Phillip Ruddock recommends guaranteeing the right of faith-based schools to choose students who uphold their religious convictions in federal law to ensure a consistent national approach.
"There is a wide variety of religious schools in Australia and ... to some school communities, cultivating an environment and ethos which conforms to their religious beliefs is of paramount importance," the report says, according to Fairfax media.
"To the extent that this can be done in the context of appropriate safeguards for the rights and mental health of the child, the panel accepts their right to select, or preference, students who uphold the religious convictions of that school community," it continues.
According to news.com.au, some states in Australia already allow schools to choose members of their school community on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or relationship status. There are also some commonwealth laws that allow faith-based schools to do this as well.
"We're not proposing to change that law to take away that existing arrangement," Morrison told reporters this week.
Gay rights advocates and members of the opposition Labor Party are not happy with the proposal, arguing that the recommendation is proposing ways to discriminate.
"The fact of the matter is that every child is entitled to human dignity. We shouldn't even be having this debate," opposition leader Bill Shorten said.
Alex Greenwich, an MP from Sydney and a gay rights activist, told Sky News Australia he was concerned about the divisiveness of the report.
"One of the tragic things out of this report is it seeks to establish a narrative of gay versus God," he said. "The faith community is largely supportive of the LGBTQI community and the LGBTQI community is very supportive and respective of the faith community."
In a statement Wednesday morning cited by Fairfax Media, Prime Minister Morrison, who opposed his country's recent gay marriage bill, said his government would consider the details of the report before publicly releasing it with a response. He insists however that religious freedoms will be protected.
"Our government will consider the details and release our response after it has gone through a proper cabinet process," he said.
"We will protect religious freedom, and get the balance right," he noted. "Each proposal will be considered carefully and respectfully before any final decisions are taken."
Despite seeking protections for faith-based schools, the religious freedom review proposal dismissed the idea that religious freedom in Australia is in "imminent peril."
It also warned against any push to allow businesses to refuse goods and services such as a wedding cake for same-sex couples. The review was reportedly commissioned after same-sex marriage was legalized in Australia last year to appease conservatives concerned it would impact their ability to practice their religion.