Exceptions allow for religious bodies to harm the fundamental rights of others in WA

Si Gladman / 27 October 2021

Current exceptions to anti-discrimination laws in Western Australia are allowing religious institutions to harm the fundamental rights and freedoms of others, the Rationalist Society of Australia has warned.

In a submission to the WA Law Reform Commission (LRC), the RSA has argued for provisions in the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 to be brought into alignment with international conventions that provide for limits to religious freedom in order to protect others. 

The LRC is currently accepting public submissions to its review into the state’s Equal Opportunity Act, including the sections that relate to exceptions for religious institutions – sections 72 and 73. 

The McGowan government could consider narrowing the religious exceptions, if recommended by the LRC. 

In the submission, the RSA said that the exceptions were out of step with Article 18(3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), stipulating that limits could be placed on the freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs to protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.

“We are concerned that these exceptions are overly broad, do not take full account of the fact that religious bodies routinely provide services on behalf of government, and permit religious bodies to act in ways that unjustifiably harm the fundamental rights and freedoms of others,” said the submission.

RSA President Meredith Doig is urging West Australians to make a submission on the LRC website by Friday’s due date.

In its submission, the RSA also called for the Equal Opportunity Act to unambiguously protect non-religious members of the community on an equal footing with religious members.

The LRC posed the question of whether a definition of ‘religious or political conviction’ would be required. Section 4(3) of the Act provides that religious or political conviction includes a lack or absence of religious or political conviction.

“Any revisions to the Act should ensure, whether by including an appropriate definition or otherwise, that it is clear that discrimination on the basis of absence of religious belief, conviction or activity is prohibited,” said the RSA submission.

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Si Gladman is Campaigns & Communications Coordinator at the Rationalist Society of Australia. You can contact him at sigladman@rationalist.com.au or follow him on Twitter at @si_gladman

Photo by Campaign Creators on Unsplash

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