Victoria anti-discrimination bill 'unfairly targets' religious organizations, archbishop says

Parliament House for the state of Victoria Parliament House for the state of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia. | Stock photo via Shutterstock

Catholic leaders in Australia expressed concern this week about a new set of laws passed in the state of Victoria which prevent religious groups and schools from making hiring decisions based on protected attributes such as marital status.

Melbourne’s Catholic archbishop said following the bill’s passage that “not a single problem of discrimination” has been identified in the state’s Catholic schools. 

Under the Equal Opportunity (Religious Exceptions) Amendment Bill 2021, religious organisations and schools will no longer be able to fire or refuse to hire people based on protected attributes such as sexuality, gender identity, or marital status, a Dec. 2 announcement from the Victorian premier reads. 

The new laws do not apply to priests, ministers, or religious leaders or their members, the premier said. Religious organizations that receive Victorian government funding to provide services will not be able to refuse to provide those services to people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

The announcement says religious organisations and schools will only be able to make employment decisions based on an employee’s religious beliefs where those beliefs are “inherent to the job such as a religious studies teacher, or a principal.” 

Archbishop Peter Comensoli of Melbourne called the new laws “a serious overreach by the Victorian Government into the rightful freedoms of faith-based organisations.”

“It unfairly targets and undermines the ability of faith organisations to confidently manage employment matters according to their mission,” Comensoli wrote, adding that “A rushed law, with inadequate consultation, and with no amendments in parliament, is not something to be celebrated.”

The archbishop reiterated his commitment to working with others “to shape and promote a fair and just society in which pluralism is valued and respected.”

The state’s ​​Minister for Equality, Martin Foley, said in a statement that “These laws send a clear message that discrimination against LGBTIQ+ Victorians based on who they are or who they love is simply not acceptable.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that people with "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" should be "accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided."

A 2003 document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith taught that "in those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty...One must refrain from any kind of formal cooperation in the enactment or application of such gravely unjust laws.”

In the United States, federal law prohibiting workplace discrimination – Title VII – includes an exception for ministers of religion. In a June 2020 ruling in the case Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, the Supreme Court found that Catholic school teachers, even if not given the formal title of "minister,” can fall under the ministerial exception because the essence of their job is to transmit the faith to students.

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