Statement on Religious Discrimination Bill and Associated Legislation
LGB Alliance Australia welcomes the shelving of the Religious Discrimination Bill, noting that even conservative, religious politicians in Australia disputed the need for the legislation. This bill was a trojan horse for discrimination against marginalised communities, many of whom were concerned that equality in law does not mean equal outcomes in reality. Australians should be free to hold personal beliefs, religious or otherwise, but the tension between the right to exercise religious rights and the right to freedom from discrimination for other communities (including minority religious communities) needs to be better balanced than the Bill would allow.
Summary of Main Points:
- We support religious protections being strengthened to be in line with other discrimination legislation, to ensure that religious and non-religious persons are free to believe (or disbelieve) and practice their religion without negative consequence. In particular, we support protections in employment situations being extended. We support the right for individuals to conscientiously object.
- We do not support the bill providing the ability to override other existing discrimination legislation. Existing discrimination protections are essential to protect individuals and ensure a just and equitable society. We do not believe that providing individuals, corporations and other entities the right to discriminate against others is reasonable (especially given this extends beyond existing discrimination protections; there are no other discrimination protections which afford organisations and institutions the power to openly discriminate against disadvantaged groups). We consider this both regressive and alarming, with foreseeable damaging outcomes which will disadvantage and disempower members of our society. We are concerned about the separation of Church and State, as per our goal as a secular society, should the Bill allow open discrimination of minority groups.
- We propose that, in addition to ensuring that LGB students cannot be expelled from a religious school, these protections are extended to teachers, ensuring they cannot be fired on grounds of their same-sex sexual orientation (as per existing legislation for protections on grounds of sexual orientation). We also propose that, in the best interest of protecting students, transgender-identifying students are also provided protections to ensure they cannot be expelled on grounds of gender identity.
LGB Alliance Australia believes that no person should be discriminated against on the basis of their religious beliefs or practices, or lack thereof. In this regard, we support religious discrimination protections being strengthened to ensure that religious and non-religious persons are protected in the workplace, as well as private and community life. However, we do not support the proposed amendments in the Religious Discrimination Bill and associated legislation which would seek to override and remove discrimination protections for other groups. We believe that protections from religious discrimination should be provided the same level of protections as other groups; not allow discrimination of other vulnerable groups at its expense. In short, we support a Bill which is consistent with other Commonwealth discrimination laws in providing protections on the basis of religion from discrimination; in its current form, the Bill does not meet this criteria, but could do so with amendments.
We have a number of concerns with the Bill in current form, namely that it would allow discrimination towards other protected groups, including discriminating towards others on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, race, relationship status, disability or other protected characteristics. The Australian Human Rights Commission (2019) notes that, “the Bill provides that ‘statements of belief’ that would otherwise contravene Commonwealth, State or Territory anti-discrimination laws are exempt from the operation of those laws”. We believe in freedom of speech protections, both in law and in practice, however do not believe that allowing institutions, organisations and persons to openly discriminate against others, falls into this category, or that this leads to a just and equitable society, such as Australia aims to be. We believe that people should be allowed to make choices in line with their personal ethics and religious beliefs, including being a conscientious objector, however this is different to disadvantageing other persons in public and community life. We believe that true freedom of religion includes the ability to disbelieve in another person’s religion (whether due to being an atheist or following a different religion) and to not be adversely impacted by others engaging in their own religious beliefs or practices.
As a progressive and pluralistic society, Australia is a secular country, with separation of Church and State. At LGB Alliance Australia, we are alarmed at the prospect of the Religious Discrimination Bill providing powers for religious entities to override existing anti-discrimination legislations, and are concerned that this violates our principles as a secular society, which should seek to protect all individuals regardless of religious belief.