Prime Minister should remove outdated religious exemptions from discrimination laws

Prime Minister should remove outdated religious exemptions from discrimination laws

The Australian Government has the opportunity to ensure all Australians are treated with fairness and equality with the findings of the Religious Freedom Review presented to the Prime Minister today.

Anna Brown, Director of Legal Advocacy with the Human Rights Law Centre, said now was the time to remove religious exemptions from discrimination laws.

“Prime Minister Turnbull must not diminish Australia’s longstanding protections from discrimination. If anything out-dated laws allowing religious organisations to discriminate against single mothers, pregnant women or LGBTI people should be repealed.”

“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 Ms Brown.

The Religious Freedom Review's Expert Panel was commissioned to investigate whether Australian law adequately protects religious freedom. The review was launched after last year’s Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey to consider some of the concerns raised by religious groups.

“For 6 months, couples have been happily giving vows of love and commitment around the country. Scaremongering that marriage equality would somehow lead to attacks on religion freedoms have proven absolutely false. Marriage equality has brought joy to many, and taken away from no one,” said Ms Brown.

A recent Galaxy poll revealed that roughly 4 out of 5 Australians strongly support discrimination protections for LGBTI people, including against discrimination from religious bodies.

“An overwhelming majority of Australians do not support taxpayer funded religious organisations and schools being able to fire a teacher or expel a student because of their sexuality or gender identity. Everyone is entitled to their religious beliefs, but those beliefs shouldn’t be used as a justification to treat people less favourably. Everyone has an equal right to be free from discrimination,” said Ms Brown.

The Human Rights Law Centre, which appeared with LGBTI advocates, health experts, frontline service providers and representatives from faith communities, did recommend filling gaps in the law when it comes to protection for people of faith. Currently, people of faith are protected from discrimination in employment under the Fair Work Act in most states and territories, but aren’t covered by federal anti-discrimination laws in other areas of life such as education, goods and services and clubs.

"We need strong discrimination laws to ensure equal treatment. People of faith should be free from discrimination in every community. At the same time, blanket exemptions that automatically privilege the rights of religious groups over other Australians must be abolished," said Ms Brown.

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

“The Religious Freedoms Review has brought to light the need for our anti-discrimination laws to be comprehensively modernised and consolidated in line with community standards. Our laws should apply equally, regardless of what your faith is, where you’re from or who you love," said Ms Brown.

The HRLC Religious Freedom Review submission can be found here.

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)