Time’s up for blanket religious exemptions to discriminate

Time’s up for blanket religious exemptions to discriminate

Outdated laws allowing religious organisations to discriminate against single mothers, pregnant women or LGBTI people should be repealed, the Human Rights Law Centre today told the Religious Freedom Review’s Expert Panel.

“Australians fundamentally believe that we should be treated with fairness and equality when we apply for a job, when we study or go to a support service for help,” said Anna Brown, Director of Legal Advocacy with the Human Rights Law Centre.

The Religious Freedom Review's Expert Panel is meeting around the country to investigate whether Australian law adequately protects religious freedom. The Human Rights Law Centre appeared with LGBTI advocates, health experts, frontline service providers and representatives from faith communities.

“Today we provided evidence that publicly-funded religious organisations discriminate against trans and gender diverse people in hospitals and welfare services. We spoke about people being fired from schools because they are gay, and harm caused by LGBT people not being able to be their true selves at work or school. Australians voted last year to end discrimination against LGBTI people when it comes to marriage. We also need to end discrimination in other areas of public life,” said Ms Brown.

Director of GLHV, Liam Leonard, presented data on the poorer mental health outcomes for LGBT people due to discrimination and the impact of staying ‘closeted’ at work or school.

“This is feeling paranoid, this is feeling like you are constantly under surveillance, this is being hypervigilant every minute in school hoping that nobody notices a word, a gesture, a comment or reference that might let them know you are LGBT. The conversations in the staff room, the innocent exchanges on the sports ground, the ones that most staff and students feel comfortable and at ease at are the ones that strike fear in many LGBT people’s heart,” said Mr Leonard.

The groups recommended changes to the permanent religious exemptions from discrimination laws, and pointed to positive examples of faith based organisations embracing policies and training on LGBTI inclusion.

“Religious exemptions should not be a blanket that hides the harms of discrimination. Greater transparency will benefit both faith based bodies and the community more broadly,” said Rev Angus McLeay to the Expert Panel.

“It’s time to remove broad religious exemptions that act as a barrier to vulnerable people accessing critical family violence and housing services from faith-based organisations. The idea that religious service providers and schools receiving millions of dollars in taxpayer funding can impose their religious and moral beliefs on others in housing, healthcare or education is out of step with our modern values,” said Ms Brown.

The Human Rights Law Centre also advocated for stronger protections from discrimination for people of faith.

“We need better protections in NSW and federally to ensure that people of faith don’t face discrimination because of their faith. It doesn’t matter if you wear a turban, cross, headscarf or no religious symbols at all, you shouldn’t experience mistreatment because of your personal beliefs about religion," said Ms Brown.

The inquiry highlights the need for Australia to consolidate and modernise its inconsistent and outdated anti-discrimination laws and introduce a Human Rights Act.

“This inquiry reveals a much larger problem — that the fundamental rights and freedoms of Australians are lacking in legal protection. We need to modernise and consolidate our patchwork of federal anti-discrimination laws into a watertight shield against mistreatment. We need better human rights protections in Australia to stop government overreach in its tracks. The answer is a Human Rights Act which protects everyone equally,” said Ms Brown.

Read case studies of difficulties faced by LGBT people presented to the panel.

Read LGBT health research presented to the panel. 

Read the HRLC Religious Freedom Review submission.

For interviews or further information please call:

Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications, Human Rights Law Centre, 0419 100 519

Pictured from left-right: Anna Brown, Director of Legal Advocacy, Human Rights Law Centre; Rev Dr John Capper, University of Divinity; Brenda Appleton, Chair, Transgender Victoria; Jamie Gardiner, Vice-President, Liberty Victoria; Natalie, Co-Chair, Equal Voices; Liam Leonard, Director, GLHV; Rev Angus McLeay, Anglican Diocese of Melbourne; Lee Carnie, Lawyer, Human Rights Law Centre; (Kate Foord, Drummond Street Services, was also present in the meeting)