Religious Discrimination bill has problems …

Vicki Caulfield / 02 September 2019

Steve Martin interviews Meredith Doig on ABC Ballarat

Steve Martin from ABC Ballarat interviews Meredith Doig on the Religious Discrimination bill.

The RSA welcomes the addition to all federal anti-discrimination laws the principle that “every person is free and equal in dignity and rights”. And that the Religious Discrimination bill defines “religious belief or activity” to include “not holding a religious belief, or not engaging in lawful religious activity”, thus attempting to placate atheists and agnostics.

However, there are multiple problems with the bill.

  • Subclause 10 of the bill essentially gives free rein to religious bodies to act in any way they think is in line with their teachings, including evangelising. The problem with this is it fails to recognise that most Australians just want to go about their daily business without having to deal with aggressive evangelists. If there’s going to be freedom of religion, we also need freedom from religion.
  • Subclause 8(3) of the bill singles out for protection statements of religious belief above other statements. Why should Israel Folau’s statements of belief (which are not only offensive but based on demonstrably false assertions) be protected when whistleblower statements (that uncover uncomfortable but true actions) be persecuted?
  • Subclause 8(5) – the conscientious objection clause – elevates religious belief above the duty of professionals in the healthcare industry to provide services to people who need them.

While the Ruddock Inquiry did recommend a Religious Discrimination bill to fill gaps in state and territory laws relating to non-discrimination on the ground of religion, they explicitly recommended against a stand-alone Religious Freedom Commissioner in the Human Rights Commission — because they found no need for one!

Despite that, this bill establishes a Religious Freedom Commissioner. If the government is serious about including atheists and agnostics (and Rationalists!), it should change the title to a Commissioner for Freedom of Religion and Belief, and charge that role with ensuring reasonable freedom from religion as well as freedom of religion.

All the more reason.