The federal government wants to hear from you on the Religious Discrimination bill
Here’s a quick and easy way to have input into the future of the federal Religious Discrimination Bill, now in the hands of two parliamentary inquiries.
A quick survey of public responses to the package of religious discrimination bills (there is actually three) has been organised by the parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights. You can access their survey here.
The survey takes about five minutes to fill out – quicker if you state your opinion without giving reasons. It canvasses your view on whether statements of religious beliefs should be legal when they are not malicious and do not vilify other persons or groups, and whether religious schools, aged care and hospitals should be free to prefer hiring staff of a particular faith.
The survey closes on December 21 at 5 pm.
The Joint Committee’s call for formal submissions – with the same closing date can be found here.You can also upload submissions on that page. Their guidelines urge that submissions strictly address the bills. It will publish submissions from organisations and academics, with samples only of form letters.
The Senate’s Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee is also holding an inquiry. Their deadline is January 7. You can upload submissions here.
A quick-of-the-mark but quite lengthy submission has been sent in by legal academic Alex Deagon which he has made available here.
A strong supporter of the bills Deagon gives his view on one of the contentious sections of the bill: the hiring practices of schools. “Sections 7-11 of the Religious Discrimination Bill enable religious bodies, including religious educational institutions, to give preference to persons who adhere to the religious belief and activity of the body for employment purposes. This will override the recently passed amendments to the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act, which prevent religious schools from preferencing staff in accordance with a religious ethos. However, it will not override state or Commonwealth discrimination laws relating to sex, sexual orientation or other protected attributes. It deals with religious discrimination only. The media has reported rumours of a deal to remove the Section 38 religious exemptions in the Sex Discrimination Act in exchange for passing the Bill. To the extent such rumours are accurate, and within the scope of the Committee’s terms of reference, this would be misconceived. Previous parliamentary committees considered such a move and rejected it, recommending the issue be considered in depth by the Australian Law Reform Commission. This is still the best approach as religious discrimination, and religious exemptions to sex discrimination are conceptually and legally separate.”
Freedom for Faith, a legal think tank promoting religious freedom and Mark Sneddon of the Institute for Civil Society – once agains supporters of the bills – have complied a booklet addressing key ojections.
Here’s a summary of the ojections and their answers.
“They’re solving a problem that doesn’t exist.” Peter van Onselen and many others claiming that the Ruddock Review said Australia did not have a religious discrimination problem.
Discrimination against people of faith is legal in NSW and SA. A business can put up a sign saying, “No Christians allowed”, and that is not illegal discrimination in NSW or SA. We wouldn’t accept that for any other minority group.
The ECAJ 2020 anti-Semitism report at https://www.ecaj.org.au/the-ecaj-2020-antisemitism-report/ and the Islamophobia Report 2019 at https://www.islamophobia.com.au/resources/ also document many recent cases of religious discrimination against Jews and Muslims.
“…this bill is definitely a sword when it comes to gay teachers or trans workers in a religious agency, to LGBTI kids in faith-based schools, to people who are using religious services, this bill allows potentially wide-ranging discrimination…”
The Bill does not affect the federal Sex Discrimination Act 1984 or any State or Territory law protecting teachers or students from discriminatory actions on the ground of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Some religious schools (and almost all religious bodies) will choose to create a community and a culture where all staff are expected to support and teach the way of life of the religion. As Professor Patrick Parkinson has stated: “modelling [a religion] within a faith community is as important as teaching [the religion] within a classroom or [a church]. Indeed it may well be more important and have more impact on people’s lives”. A religious school that makes this choice (and publicly discloses that policy as this Bill will require) should not be forced by anti-discrimination law to hire and retain staff who will not support and teach the religious beliefs of the school – it is about whether a staff member shares the beliefs of the religion, not about their sexuality.
Editors note: this may no longer be the case with regard to students at least with the Prime Minister reported as bringing forward amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act. “Christian groups and conservative Liberal MPs attacked commitments Mr Morrison made to amend the Sex Discrimination Act after pressure from moderate Liberals to ensure gay students would not be expelled or suspended over sexual orientation or gender identity, the Australian reported. “The Australian Christian Lobby and Christian school groups threatened to withdraw support for the bill if an amended SDA removed exemptions for religious institutions protecting the “teaching and daily operation of faith-based schools”.
The Religious Discrimination Bill will legalise hate speech
The RDB protects people who make moderate statements of belief or unbelief from being taken (often by activists) to an anti-discrimination tribunal. Catholic Archbishop Porteous in Tasmania gave parents of Catholic school students a document with moderate statements on standard Catholic doctrine on sexuality and man-woman marriage.
The RDB won’t change any other existing restrictions on speech like:
– an employer’s reasonable and lawful directions to be courteous and respectful to customers and other staff;
– laws against speech that incites violence, severe ridicule, or contempt (vilification); – laws against statements that harm a person’s reputation (defamation).
The Religious Discrimination Bill will threaten healthcare for minorities
The RDB protects people from religious discrimination. It does not provide any right or protection for a medical professional to discriminate against their patients in type or quality of medical care or to refuse to provide treatment on religious or conscience grounds.
It will wind back hard-fought protections for women, people with disability, LGBTIQ+ people, and even people of faith.
The attribute of sexual orientation is protected under the federal Sex Discrimination Act. The RD Bill does not affect or take away the rights of LGBT people protected under the SDA. The SDA will remain unchanged.
Editors Note: as noted above the Sex Discrimination Act may be amended, to remove exemptions for schools and possibly other religious bodies, which will mean schools are unacble to discriminate against LGBTIQA students and possibly teachers.