Saturday, December 4, 2021

The religious discrimination debate is back, so why do we keep hearing about religious ‘freedom’?

The debate about religious discrimination has resumed in Australia.

Attorney-General Michaelia Cash plans to bring the latest version of the bill to parliament in the last two weeks of the year, starting next week.

We have yet to see the most current draft, but the bill seeks to prohibit discrimination “on the basis of religious belief or activity in major areas of public life,” including employment and education.

Once again, religious groups and LGBT+ advocates are raising competing concerns about the law’s impact on their rights and freedoms.

It is worth mentioning that the federal bill is explicitly about religious discrimination, but in public discourse we discuss “religious freedom”. Labeling this confusion as a “religious freedom bill” on the attorney-general’s department’s website doesn’t help.

Why the conflict between these terms?

What is at stake with the new bill depends a lot on how discrimination is conceptualized – whether to be free of it, or to exercise it – and by whom it is claimed.

context is important

In the contemporary Australian context this link between discrimination and liberty has taken almost ten years to form. In 2011, there was a change from religious freedom to about the right to be free from discrimination because of one’s religion, about the “right” to discriminate against others in the name of one’s religion.



Read more: New research shows religious discrimination on the rise around the world, including in Australia


The context is important here. Around this time, the campaign for marriage equality began to gain traction in the public debate. For example, this was the year Getup’s “It’s Time” video in favor of gay marriage went viral, garnering more than two million views in five days.

get up! Released a video clip in 2011 promoting marriage equality. It quickly went viral.

It was also the year the Australian Human Rights Commission released its first report on LGBT+ discrimination, finding

There are significant gaps in legal protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender and/or gender identity at the state and territory level, and almost no protection at the federal level.

A response after a postal vote

But as the rights of LGBT+ people gained more importance, so too did the fear of harm to religious freedom. While legislation for marriage equality in 2017 was a major milestone for the LGBT+ community, there was a backlash among some religious groups.

After the postal vote, then-treasurer Scott Morrison said:

There are about five million Australians who did not vote in [postal] Surveys that are now coming to terms with the fact that they are in the minority. it didn’t happen […] they worry that they have broad views and beliefs […] Therefore it is in danger.

To appease opponents of gay marriage, former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull established a Religious Freedom Review. The review, headed by Liberal MP Philip Ruddock, “did not accept the argument made by some, that religious freedom is in imminent danger”. But nevertheless it recommended new legislative protections:

To make it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of a person’s ‘religious belief or activity’, including on the ground that a person does not hold any religious belief.

The Morrison government took a religious discrimination bill for the 2019 federal election and regards it as a major electoral commitment.

A (very) heated debate over the bill

The federal government has been consulting with the community and experts, but it has been a rocky road—with criticism from nearly all interested parties (saying the bill either went too far or didn’t go far enough).

The bill has already been through several iterations. Indeed, it was initially supposed to be passed before the May 2019 federal election and attempts to introduce it to parliament in late 2019 failed, amid pressure from some religious leaders to strengthen protections for Australians of the faith.

The Religious Discrimination Bill was initially to be voted on before the 2019 election.
Lucas Koch/You

For example, some conservative Christian groups want to be able to maintain a “right to discriminate” based on their beliefs. For example, the Presbyterian Church of Queensland is concerned

Can Christian institutions like schools [still] Insisting on a traditional view that God created people male and female, gender is not fluid, but conforms to their biological gender.

Other Christian groups, such as Christian Medical and Dental Fellowship, want to be able to continue gay conversion treatment.

[Religious texts] Promote the stability of gender identity according to chromosomal directive and encourage psychological support for confused people […],

A ‘Follau Clause’

Meanwhile, religious groups continue to raise concerns of “freedom of expression”—in part, Israel’s association with Folau’s treatment. In 2019, Folau lost his contract with Rugby Australia for social media posts about LGBT+ people. An undisclosed settlement was reached later that year.

Legal academic Patrick Emerton highlights the ongoing struggle of the phenomenon:

There is no doubt that Folau’s views are sincere, and his adherence to his notion of the good is deep and genuine. But the lives of gay and lesbian people are also lived honestly and honestly.

At this point, it is important to emphasize that Christians and the LGBT+ community are not locked in a zero-sum human rights game.

A sign promoting marriage equality outside a Uniting Church church in 2017.
Some religious groups, such as The Uniting Church, have supported marriage equality and are now concerned about how the proposed legislation will affect LGBT+ people.
James Ross / AAP

For example, there was clear support of the Christian community for marriage equality. And, of course, some LGBT+ people are religious.

In addition, the Ruddock panel found “limited evidence that the apprehension of religious groups expressed during that time”. [marriage equality] There was a debate in Australia.”

what happens now?

Where does this leave the debate to go on the floor of Parliament?



Read more: The Coalition’s approach to religious discrimination risks being an inconclusive, pointless exercise


It is possible for the harshly worded bill to protect against religious discrimination and uphold the hard-won rights of LGBT+ Australians. As the Australian GLBTIQ Multicultural Council notes, they support legislation prohibiting discrimination against Australians “on the basis of faith and religion, or for not holding those beliefs”, with the caution:

Any new law should be a simple anti-discrimination bill without conferring on many of the special privileges and rights that the current proposed law provides.

Such laws could ensure avenues of protection to religious Australians – including members of minority religions – if they are targets of discrimination.

Ultimately, we need to ask whether the bill is about preventing discrimination, or maintaining the privilege of acting beyond normal standards of accountability.

This article is republished from – The Conversation – Read the – original article.

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