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Inherent Requirements Law undermines freedom and diversity

By Mark Sneddon - posted Wednesday, 16 November 2016


Our society is made up of lots of different groups with different views on what makes for a good life. Atheist and religious. Liberal and Labor. Socialists and capitalists. Gay and straight. AFL and NRL.

Having a diversity of groups with a diversity of views is a sign of a healthy democracy. People are free to join with others whose views and causes they believe in and are free to not join with others whose views and causes they disagree with. We value that freedom to associate and not to associate with others. We value different groups expressing their different visions of what is good. 

Even our anti-discrimination law lets many organisations formed to advance a cause discriminate by choosing to employ only people who believe in the cause.  Political bodies like the Greens aren’t forced by law to employ climate change deniers and the ALP doesn’t have to employ union haters. Imagine if they did. Religious bodies don’t have to employ people whose beliefs or actions flatly contradict the religion. And clubs to preserve minority cultures don’t have to accept as members people who don’t fit the culture. And fair enough. To have  a diversity of organisations representing their different views and cultures, those organisations need the freedom to choose to employ people who will be ambassadors for the organisation’s cause.

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This week the Victorian Upper House considers a State Government proposal which will limit that freedom (but only for religious organisations).  The proposed law will force religious organisations including schools, to justify to an arm of the government, like the Human Rights Commission or a tribunal, that it is “an inherent requirement” for a potential employee to conform to the values of the religion. If the government disagrees, the organisation will have to take on employees who don’t agree with the basic values of the organisation or pay compensation. The law will effectively remove the ability of parents to send their children to a religious school where all the staff are selected to express and live out the values of the religion.

The law will make it very difficult for, say, an orthodox Jewish school which seeks to educate students to be orthodox Jews to knock back an applicant for a teaching role on the basis that applicant is a Muslim or is a person who advocates a swinging sex life with multiple partners, contrary to orthodox Judaism. Or the other way around: Muslim schools would have the same problem if a Buddhist or a swinger applied for a similar position. A church (or mosque) would have to justify why its youth leader needs to be a Christian (or Muslim) and follow Christian (or Islamic) teaching on sex and marriage.

The proposed law will make it hard for religious organisations to maintain their religious identity and culture. Imagine if the Collingwood Football Club were forced to accept one-eyed Carlton supporters as members of the Collingwood cheer squad. How would that work? Or what about a political party? Imagine if the pro-abortion Sex Party could not refuse to hire an anti-abortion activist as their election campaign manager? It wouldn’t work.

Organisations should be allowed to choose to employ people who will uphold their core values, rather than undermine them.

The proposed law also contains a massive double-standard. Churches, mosques, synagogues, religious charities and welfare agencies, and religious schools will all need to justify to the government their “conformity to values” requirements in employment. But no other organisation will have to do this.

Political parties and organisations can hire or sack a person for political beliefs or activities which don’t match the party’s. And they don’t have to justify their decision to the government. A gay men’s club, set up to preserve a minority culture, can refuse to have members who aren’t gay men. And they don’t have to justify their decision to the government.

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Those organisations can rightly maintain the integrity of their values in hiring and membership decisions. But why should religious organisations have to get the government approval to maintain the integrity of their values in hiring? Especially when so many Victorians choose to pay fees (on top of their taxes) to send their kids to the local Catholic school or other religious schools precisely because they want the values of the religion taught and modelled to their children by all the staff at the school.

This law will undercut the ability of religious organisations to continue to be true to their basic beliefs and values. And if it doesn’t make sense to do that to the Collingwood Football Club or a political party, it doesn’t make sense for religious organisations either.

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About the Author

Mark Sneddon is the Executive Director of the Institute for Civil Society, a social policy think tank based in Melbourne.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Mark Sneddon

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

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