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Victoria, religious freedom and those that don't get it

By Danny Stevens - posted Friday, 18 February 2011

In 2010 the Labor government of Victoria instigated legislation to prevent religious institutions from discriminating against employees on religious grounds where those employees were not employed to perform religious duties. The new Liberal state government plans to take these laws out before they are enacted.

Part of the reasoning put forth for the roll back is that these laws are an attack on religious freedom. To set the context here are some highlights from an article by David Marr.

Australia's religious organisations fight for the right to discriminate, writes David Marr.
February 14, 2011 Brisbane Times


Who the faiths employ in their pulpits is their own affair. If they want to tear themselves apart over the ordination of women or homosexuals, they are answerable only to themselves. But ever since anti-discrimination laws first appeared 30 or 40 years ago, the faiths have fought for exemptions to allow them to employ only the sexually virtuous in their welfare agencies, hospitals and schools.

Services are denied. Promotions are blocked. Individuals are picked off. Applications are rebuffed. Jobs are lost.

It is not a boutique issue. The faiths are big employers. Indeed, the Catholic Church is one of the biggest private employers in Australia and claims the right to vet the sexual morals even of the gardeners in hospital grounds. It says: "Catholic agencies must be free in employing staff and accepting volunteers to prefer practising and faithful Catholics even in support roles, and not just in roles directly concerned with pastoral work or the teaching of religion."

"A Liberal-Nationals Coalition government will restore the rights of freedom of religion and freedom of association in relation to faith-based schools and other organisations by removing the inherent requirements test which Labor has imposed," the new Attorney-General of Victoria, Robert Clark, told the Herald.

Also on this topic by Melissa Fyfe in The Age

Religious groups to regain bias rights
Melissa Fyfe
February 13, 2011 The Age

Attorney-General Robert Clark is drawing up amendments, to be introduced to Parliament in May or June, to curb Victoria's anti-discrimination laws as part of the Coalition's election promises to conservative religious groups.

The amendments will scrap Labor's reforms, which take effect in August, that give wider investigative powers to the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission and restrict the rights of faith-based organisations to refuse employment and services to people they believe may undermine their beliefs.

The Attorney-General said Labor's reforms must be wound back because they were a direct attack on faith-based schools and parents who wanted a religious education for their children. "We made very clear election commitments and so the issues have been well canvassed," he said.

"The 2010 legislation is a far-reaching attack on the freedom of faith-based organisations and freedom of religion and belief. The amendments will restore tolerance and a sense of the fair go. Faith-based organisations and political organisations should be free to engage staff that uphold their values."

... Rob Ward, the Victorian director of the Australian Christian Lobby, now says the group is keen to see the end of the Labor reforms. He said the mindset of the commission was "troubling". "While we've had a good relationship with commissioner Helen Szoke, they don't seem to be favourably inclined towards freedom of religion and association."

So not only a director of the Australian Christian Lobby but the Victorian Attorney-General see this as a question of freedom of religion.

Freedom of religion and concience is one of the basic rights and is on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


Article 18. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

To understand why this is important you could look to European history. From the 15th Century, the time of the Spanish Inquisition, to the 16th Century and the height of Calvinism, religious orthodoxy was law (although they were different orthodoxies in question from time to time). Blasphemers, Apostates and Heretics (real or simply accused) were tortured and killed or had their property and lively hood taken away. This effected some millions of people.

In that period of darkness and oppression a few started the discussion of liberty which innevitably led to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in modern times.

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About the Author

Danny Stevens works a lot in the computer industry, teaches lateral thinking skills, is a member of the Greens, works on community projects, invests in property, runs an online strategy games business and sings in a quartet and four-voice barbershop chorus. Danny was named father of the year every year since 1995 by his daughter Phaedra, well, once she learned to talk. His wife Dianne makes it all possible for him. He's 48 and still looks forward to his next brithday.

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