Australians are being warned that a rush to legislate religious freedom could open the door to sharia law, as senior conservatives call for "cooler heads to prevail" in the growing dispute over the protections needed when parliament enacts marriage equality.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton and Defence Personnel Minister Dan Tehan are urging colleagues to avoid sweeping amendments with unintended consequences, such as creating religious enclaves shielded by law. The warning comes as federal cabinet meets today to consider a breakthrough plan to resolve a growing dispute over personal freedom, with church leaders and independent experts likely to be consulted on how to craft the right safeguards for people of faith.

The Australian understands the cabinet proposal could lead to an expert group being set up to advise on the wider issue of religious freedom, exploring the need for safeguards as well as the risk of going too far in a way that could embolden groups to justify discrimination on the basis of their beliefs.

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