Peter Dutton says religious schools must have right to teach own definition of marriage

Religious schools, including Catholic and Anglican schools, should have a legislatively protected right to teach their conception of marriage, Peter Dutton has said.

Dutton has weighed in on the side of Coalition conservatives, including Tony Abbott, who argue that religious freedom and freedom of speech are at stake in the same-sex marriage postal survey, a view rejected by the attorney general, George Brandis, and fellow moderate Christopher Pyne.

Dutton’s comments came after the Liberal MP Andrew Hastie said he would lobby “very hard” for religious protections to be included in a same-sex marriage bill, foreshadowing a major fight about which bill should be used to legislate marriage equality if the yes case wins the upcoming survey.

Asked about the same-sex marriage debate, Dutton said the government’s position is “there needs to be protection for religious freedom”.

“People need to be able to speak their mind,” he said in an interview on 2GB on Thursday. “If they’re employed in an Anglican school or a Catholic school, whatever it might be, and they want to preach in accordance with their beliefs, that is a right in our country and needs to be protected. You don’t have to be a person of religious belief to support that.

“People don’t need to conform to one point of view. People need to have their freedom of speech. That needs to be enshrined. If legislation needs to be changed or people need to be alerted to the fact that there’s likely change required in legislation, they should be heard.”

Freedom of religion is protected by the commonwealth constitution, which prohibits laws that interfere with “the free exercise of religion”.

Dutton’s comments suggest that – if the Marriage Act is changed to include same-sex couples – he may support a further right for schools to explicitly reject the new civil definition of marriage.

The Catholic church and the Sydney diocese of the Anglican church have been campaigning against the legalisation of same-sex marriage in Australia.

Abbott has warned that same-sex marriage threatens religious freedom and freedom of speech, which he has called “real issues” in the postal survey.

On Sunday Brandis said that the postal survey was about one issue only – whether same-sex couples should be allowed to marry – and warned he would not be “tricked by Abbott and others” who are trying to turn it into a broader debate about religious freedom.

On Wednesday, the defence industry minister, Christopher Pyne, gave support for that position arguing that Abbott was trying to “muddy the ­waters and make the vote about something other than what it is”.

Dutton joins assistant ministers Zed Seselja and Angus Taylor in publicly arguing freedom of speech and religion are at stake in the postal survey but has gone further by suggesting they should be legislatively protected in some way.

Brandis has said that the bills promoted by him and fellow Liberal senator Dean Smith to legalise same-sex marriage contain “very extensive protections of religious freedom”.

On Thursday Hastie told the Australian protections in those bills “extended only to the wedding and the wedding participants themselves”.

“They need to be expanded to whole-of-life protections,” he said. “I will be fighting very hard to make sure [a same-sex marriage bill] includes religious protections.”

Dutton said that participants in the marriage debate – including his colleagues – had to be respectful, including giving people a right to put their views.

“People deserve to hear the facts and the consequences [of same-sex marriage], they deserve to understand what a change in the law would mean,” he said. “We’re not going to shout people down, whether it’s Tony Abbott or anyone else.”

Asked about Pyne’s view that Abbott was attempting to “muddy the waters”, Dutton encouraged people to “read widely”, including the article in the Australian that suggests state and federal discrimination law will have to be rewritten.

Asked about a push for anti-vaccination campaigner, Kent Heckenlively, to be denied a visa to Australia the immigration minister said he would not comment on the individual case but described anti-vaxxers as “dangerous people”.

“If we don’t get herd immunity within kids across society, we will see children dying,” he said. “There are some fringe elements of the medical profession in this country – most of them hanging out in tree houses in Byron Bay and other parts of the country – that are completely disconnected from mainstream medicine.”

Dutton said he was “having a close look at this case” but in general he believed that “we shouldn’t have people who are preaching dangerous messages and, wherever possible, we should stop them coming in the first place”.