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Tolerance squeezing out conviction

By Peter Kurti - posted Thursday, 10 July 2014

Questions about how much freedom religious believers should enjoy to express their faith and dutiful obedience to a supreme being have been in the news more frequently in recent days.

In the United States, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of family-owned company Hobby Lobby which had challenged the government over insurance obligations to be imposed by Obamacare.

The decision, which was handed down by a majority of the justices, upholds the right of faith-based employers to choose freely how to provide benefits for their employees.


Meanwhile in the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) handed down a decision that appears to impose limits upon a person's right to express their religious beliefs.

In that case, the ECtHR upheld a decision by the French government to ban the wearing of the niqab in public places and ruled that the ban did not infringe the right to religious freedom.

Although Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) upholds the freedom to manifest one's religious beliefs, it does set limits if they are in the interests of social cohesion.

In other words, the ECHR states that the right to manifest one's religious beliefs is not an absolute right. It must always be balanced against other rights and freedoms enjoyed by citizens.

The limits of religious liberty and the right to free and public expression of religious ideas are also being debated in Australia where there is a broad commitment to upholding freedom of religion.

Every state and territory has anti-discrimination legislation which contains exemptions protecting the right to religious liberty and ensuring it is balanced against other rights.


These exemptions are not there to justify discriminatory behaviour. Rather they are there to protect the right to religious liberty and to strike the balance between different rights and freedoms.

Unfortunately when they evaluate these exemptions, Australian courts look to be taking a more restrictive view of religious liberty as they seek to strike an appropriate balance.

Earlier this year the Victorian Court of Appeal upheld a decision which found a Christian youth camp liable for refusing to take a booking from a homosexual support group.

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About the Author

The Reverend Peter Kurti is a research fellow the Centre for Independent Studies.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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