Canberra, Australia, Oct 1, 2019 / 18:01 pm
Freedom for Faith, a Christian legal think tank, expressed concerns last week over unintended consequences of the Australian government's religious discrimination bill, urging that it be re-drafted before it is passed.
“Freedom for Faith welcomes the considerable efforts that the Government has made to consult on the drafting of this Bill. Many features of it are very good, including general provisions for protection of people of faith from discrimination in Commonwealth law; but Freedom for Faith also has significant concerns about certain provisions which have consequences that are probably unintended,” the group said in its Sept. 25 submission in consultation on the bill.
The most prominent concerns of the think tank, which says it “exists to see religious freedom protected and promoted in Australia”, relate to staffing policies in faith-based institutions; use of property inconsistent with a religious purpose or religious beliefs; and enrolment of students in faith-based educational institutions.
The religious discrimination bill is intended make it unlawful to discriminate against people on the ground of their religious belief or activity; establish a religious freedom commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission; and amend existing laws regarding religious freedom, including marriage and charities law, and objects clauses in anti-discrimination law.
The coalition government wants to make religious belief and activity a protected class, like race or sex. It also hopes to ensure that groups rejecting same-sex marriage are not stripped of their charitable status.
In its current version, the bill would not protect religious statements that are “malicious, would harass, vilify or incite hatred or violence against a person or group or which advocate for the commission of a serious criminal offence”.
Freedom for Faith maintains that as it is written, the bill could “suggest a very limited scope for religious organisations to retain their ethos and identity, and conversely an expansive scope for suppression of free speech. It is difficult to reconcile these Notes, at various points, with government policy as expressed by the Prime Minister and Attorney-General.”
Freedom for Faith said that “the overwhelming concern of faith-based organisations across the country with whom we have spoken is about the effect of the Bill on their religious mission, with particular reference to their staffing policies.”