Religious freedom, LGBT+ employees, and the right to discriminate – Research Project

This research project aims to identify strategies to manage tensions between religious freedom and LGBT+ rights in the workplace in Australia. The project is being led by Prof Douglas Ezzy from the University of Tasmania, School of Social Sciences in conjunction with colleagues from University of Sydney and University of Ottawa and is funded by an Australian Research Council (ARC) grant. The project is comprised of seven small studies (see Project Organisation).

Aims and Background

As noted, this research aims to identify strategies to manage religious freedom and LGBT+ rights in the workplace. Religiously affiliated employers in Australia can legally discriminate against LGBT+ employees in some circumstances (Rees, Rice, Allen 2018). These policies have a profound impact on LGBT+ employees, their co-workers, and their religiously affiliated employers in social welfare, education, and health care. There have been calls to protect the rights of LGBT+ employees by removing exemptions that allow religiously affiliated employers to discriminate. There have also been calls for new federal legislation to further protect religious freedom. These policy debates are framed by legal debate about the extent to which international human rights law supports religious exemptions from anti-discrimination legislation (Vickers 2016), and philosophical debates about the relative merits of tolerance and respect (Richardson-Self 2015). The larger project combines empirical social research about workplace experiences and managerial practices with legal and philosophical analysis.  Organisations and policy makers can immediately use the findings to guide their responses to religious freedom and LGBT+ rights. The proposed research will be the first major study of this kind in Australia.

Team Members

Other members of the team include Professor Simon Rice, a human rights lawyer from the University of Sydney, Associate Professor Angela Dwyer, an expert in policing and emergency management in the School of Social Sciences at the University of Tasmania, Dr Louise Richardson-Self, a philosopher at the University of Tasmania, Dr Bronwyn Fielder, a research fellow at the University of Tasmania, Professor Lori Beaman from the University of Ottawa in Canada and Rev Angus McLeay, an Anglican priest, also completing a PhD at the University of Tasmania. (For details see Researchers).


The overall project provides immediate benefits through identifying effective Australian policies, strategies and practices for managing religious freedom and LGBT+ rights in the workplace that can inform decisions by policy makers and organisational managers. Religious freedom and LGBT+ rights is a major ongoing site of political and community tension.  An empirically rigorous analysis of the issues can provide essential information to inform this public debate, guide policy makers in developing legislation, and assist managers in framing institutional responses.

Communication of Results

Information about project publications are available on this project website.  Results will be disseminated via reports, journal articles, book chapters and presentations at conferences. Resources include downloadable results summaries for policy makers, case studies, summary sheets for international researchers, links to academic publications, and recordings of symposia presentations.