Faith leaders 'protections against religious discrimination at a federal level are long overdue'

Key faith leaders from Christian, Jewish and Islamic communities have issued a statement in support of a religious discrimination bill. They call for bipartisan support of the bill as reported so far. Signatories include leaders of Anglican, Presbyterian, Baptist and Adventist networks (denominations).

We are grateful that the Government has engaged in extensive consultations with a diverse group of faith leaders in relation to the latest draft of the Religious Discrimination Bill. This consultation is appropriate, given that any such Bill will necessarily have a significant effect upon people of faith and the religious bodies and organisations which they have established.

As recognised by the Ruddock Review, protections against religious discrimination at a federal level are long overdue. Faith leaders would welcome the introduction of substantive protections for people of faith against faith-based discrimination. Such protections are needed because federally there is at present little if any legislative protection against discrimination directed at a person based on their religious identity and belief, and there are inconsistencies in the manner in which States and Territories have addressed the issue, if at all. This is in contrast to the existence of Federal legislation which protects against discrimination based on certain other attributes.

Although we have not seen the Bill, we understand from our discussions with the Government that some of the measures present in earlier exposure drafts have been removed, such as the protections against employer codes of conduct that restrict religious speech outside the workplace, and the conscience protection for healthcare professionals. We would have preferred that these protections had been retained in some form.

Based on what we have been informed will be the contents of the Bill, we welcome this Bill because it will protect people of faith from discrimination on the basis of their religious beliefs, and will allow faith-based organisations to act in accordance with their doctrines, tenets and beliefs without this being disallowed as religious discrimination.

Human rights legislation of the kind that is envisaged should be subject to periodic review. We will monitor the effect of any legislation that may be enacted, and will readily co-operate with the government in any review process to optimise the benefits of the legislation for all Australians.

With the more controversial measures reportedly having been removed from the Bill, there appears to be no sensible reason for it to generate a deeply polarising debate over religion. If the reports about the key provisions of the Bill are correct, it will deserve bipartisan support.

The Most Rev.Peter A Comensoli
Archbishop of Melbourne
Chair, Bishops Commission for Life, Family and Public Engagement Australian Catholic Bishops Conference

Peter Wertheim AM
co-Chief Executive Officer Executive Council of Australian Jewry

Bilal Rauf
Spokesperson and Advisor Australian National Imams Council

The Most Rev. Kanishka Raffel
Archbishop Anglican Diocese of Sydney

The Rt Rev. Dr Michael Stead
Diocesan Registrar Bishop of South Sydney Anglican Diocese of Sydney

The Rev. Mark Wilson
National Ministries Director Australian Baptist Ministries (Baptist Union of Australia Inc.)

Dr Marshall Ballantine-Jones Executive Director
New South Wales Council of Churches Executive

Peter Phillips
Moderator Presbyterian Church of Victoria

The Rev. Dr Philip Strong
Moderator Presbyterian Church of Queensland

Adrian Lamrock
Moderator Presbyterian Church of Australia in NSW & ACT

Hussein Faraj
United Shia Islamic Foundation

Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay
Maronite Bishop of Australia Maronite Eparchy of Australia

His Grace Bishop Daniel
Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church – Diocese of Sydney & Affiliated Regions Vice-President of Australasian – Middle East Christian Apostolic Churches (AMEC)

Pastor Terry Johnson
President Seventh-day Adventist Church in Australia

Al Stewart
National Director Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches

Pastor Wayne Alcorn
National President Australian Christian Churches

Wayne Swift
National Leader Acts Global Churches

Pastor Ross Abraham
Chairman International Network of Churches

The Rev David Tse
Chairman Sydney Chinese Christian Churches Association

Mar Meelis Zaia AM
Metropolitan & Patriarchal Vicar General Assyrian Church of the East Archdioceses of Australia, NZ & Lebanon

Vanessa Cheng
Executive Officer Australian Association of Christian Schools

The Rev David Tse
Chairman Sydney Chinese Christian Churches Association

Abdullah Khan President
Islamic Schools Association of Australia

Wayne Swift
National Leader Acts Global Churches

Patrick Parkinson
Chair Freedom for Faith

Dr Daryl Murdoch
National Director Adventist Schools Australia

Mark Spencer
Director of Public Policy Christian Schools Australia