Canberra, Australia, Oct 8, 2019 / 11:49 am
The Catholic bishops of Australia are among those who have called for changes to a contentious religious discrimination bill, saying that while it shows promise, it does not do enough to safeguard religious freedom.
The submission period on the draft version of the religious freedom bill ended last week. The bill is intended to 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”.
The Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference filed a submission on the draft bill, calling it “an important acknowledgement of the right to freedom of religion,” but warning that it falls short in several key areas.
In particular, they pointed to a provision in the bill clarifying that religious schools are not discriminating through actions “that may reasonably be regarded as being in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of [their] religion.” This provision should be extended to other organizations with a religious mission and ethos too, they said.
It is important for Catholic health groups, welfare agencies, and other entities to be able to employ staff members who will uphold the tenets of their faith, the bishops said.
“The Catholic Church across its many varied entities and works is a substantial employer and has many staff who may not share our religious faith, but, importantly, our staff see and support the value of our mission to serve others.”