Australia needs to legislate for equality not religious exceptionalism

Australia needs to legislate for equality not religious exceptionalism

Today’s announcement by Prime Minister Scott Morrison that the religious freedom review report will be released, has prompted calls for stronger federal protections from discrimination for LGBTIQ+ people.

“Attempts to protect religious freedom should not undermine the right to equality for other groups in society,” said Anna Brown, Director of Legal Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre and incoming Chief Executive of Equality Australia.

“No one should be turned away or mistreated because of their faith. However, we remain deeply concerned that attempts to legislate to protect religious freedom will come at the expense of equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people.

“We will be carefully considering the detail of the Government’s response, but remain concerned that future legislation will enshrine state sanctioned discrimination against LGBT children and impunity for church leaders who cause harm,” said Ms Brown.

Discrimination against LGBT students and staff in schools

The Prime Minister has referred the issue of whether religious schools should be allowed to lawfully discriminate against LGBT staff and students to the Australian Law Reform Commission. A law reform commission inquiry would follow two senate inquiries into this issue, and numerous inquiries into religious freedoms in recent years.

“We don’t need an inquiry to tell us that kids and teachers should be protected at school,” said Ms Brown.

“Our Government needs to listen to the Australian community, many of whom have lost faith in religious institutions and their ability to keep children safe. It’s time to remove these anachronistic rules and privileges for religious organisations that allow them to bully children.

“Let’s take the misinformation out of this debate. Schools already have the ability to set reasonable rules and standards of behaviour to uphold their religious ethos both for students and in employment. The ALP Bill simply removes an exemption that allows religious schools to discriminate against students. It’s that simple.

“We need greater transparency and legal protections to ensure that vulnerable young people are safe at school and teachers can be safe when they go to work,” said Ms Brown.

Religious Discrimination Act and Religious Freedom Commissioner

The Prime Minister has announced plans to take a Religious Discrimination Act to the next federal election, and is proposing to introduce a Religious Freedom Commissioner, despite the Expert Panel specifically not supporting the creation of a specific position.

“We support a Religious Discrimination Act in principle, but would need to see the detail of what the Morrison Government is proposing,” said Ms Brown.

“The Government must ensure the Act does not enshrine religious exceptionalism and wind back equality for other vulnerable groups,” said Ms Brown.

Equality Australia and the Human Rights Law Centre support a consolidated Equality Act which would provide a more consistent anti-discrimination framework at a national level, and a Charter of Rights to comprehensively protect all human rights.

Recommendations enshrine rejected amendments to marriage equality bill

The Government has announced its intention to accept 14 of the Ruddock review recommendations immediately and will seek to enact them in law in February as it “views them as uncontroversial”.

“The Ruddock report is highly controversial,” said Ms Brown.

“Recommendations to create new exceptions from charity laws for organisations who oppose marriage equality and interfere with education look eerily similar to hostile amendments tabled by Scott Morrison during the marriage equality debates this time last year. These caused serious public concern, before being overwhelmingly rejected by the Parliament.

“This is another attempt to enshrine unnecessary and unorthodox religious exceptions into law, which have already been rejected by the Australian Parliament,” said Ms Brown.



Photo source: The Prime Minister’s facebook page.