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Freedom from discrimination OK for progressives so why not for faith groups?

By Greg Bondar - posted Monday, 10 January 2022


The Australian Parliamentary Joint Human Rights Committee on the Inquiry into the Religious Discrimination Bill is well under way.

FamilyVoice has for 50 years been calling on governments to ensure that the people of all faiths can practice their faith without fear of persecution and/or litigation for voicing their beliefs in the public square. Whilst there is ample support for a religious discrimination bill 'on religious principles', many believe there are strong legal and human rights grounds for such a bill.

The bill before the House is not only a much-needed bill – especially to those of faith in our society – but also for institutions that adopt their statement of faith into their work practices and environments.

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The Bill is the result of the 'miracle' election promise made in 2019 by Prime Minister Scott Morrison which he is now seeking to keep, albeit at the last-minute of his 3-year term.

Australia is increasingly a hostile place for people of faith. Christians and other religious believers are being fired from their jobs, stripped of their qualifications, silenced with litigation, and excluded from the public square.

Australian researchshows that 90 per cent of Australians believe that people should have the freedom to share their religious beliefs

The Bill in question is an important but uncharismatic legislative proposal that will extend basic protections to Christians and all religious Australians that other groups have enjoyed for decades. If enacted, the Bill will bring federal protections for religious belief and activity into line with protections that attributes like race, sex, and disability already enjoy. The Bill is a commendable first step. It is not a cure-all for religious freedom issues, and it has glaring shortcomings, but it deserves bi-partisan support.

However, the Bill has fallen short of Christian expectations. It has also encouraged a scare campaign that lacks substance.

Progressive critics have spoken out against the Bill, either calling for further watering down of it, or for it to be scrapped altogether. In addition, opponents of the Bill raise the spectre of hypothetical scenarios, as noted by Australia's Human Rights Law Alliance, where single women are refused services by doctors, same sex attracted students are callously expelled from school, and Christian waitstaff serve you a fire and brimstone lecture on your sexuality with your morning coffee. Activist lobby groups decry that the Bill will seriously harm the rights and dignity of LGBTIQA+ Australians and other minority groups and will privilege religion.

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This opposition campaign is nothing more than an exercise in baseless scaremongering. It completely ignores the lived experiences of religious Australians who face hostility for their beliefs. The criticisms that have been levelled at the Bill do not stand up to even the most superficial scrutiny. There appears to be an unlevel playing field and proponents of the bill have been 'pepper sprayed' by the LGBTIQA+ activists. There are countless stories of religious discrimination where Australians have been sacked, ostracised, and cancelled for their faith. These are the people that the Bill has been designed to protect and is much welcomed by FamilyVoice Australia.

The core provisions of the Bill mirror other anti-discrimination laws and constitute a very generic and long-accepted legal framework for protecting religious Australians from discrimination. The Bill will protect religious Australians from unfair treatment on the ground of their religious belief either directly by explicit discrimination, or indirectly by the imposition of a rule or requirement that would disproportionately affect people of faith.

This protection will extend to standard areas of public engagement where religious discrimination is prohibited such as education, work, provision of goods and services, accommodation etc. In short, the 'heart' of the Bill merely brings religious freedom protections into line with protections for other attributes. Indeed, in comparison to other attributes, religious belief and activity have less protection under the proposed Bill.

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About the Author

Greg Bondar serves as the NSW State Director of Family Voice Australia. He has been working as a senior executive within the not-for-profit, government, and the corporate sector for over 30 years

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