The Equality Campaign Says Existing Religious Exemptions Go Too Far


Exemptions in anti-discrimination laws allowing faith-based institutions to discriminate against staff or clients on the basis of religious belief should be repealed, the Equality Campaign has told the Ruddock religious freedom review.

The group said in their submission to the review that the cross-party same-sex marriage bill “struck a fair balance and should not be revisited” and called for amendments extending the exemptions to be rejected.

“The religious exemptions that allow discrimination against LGBTI people in employment, education and delivery of goods and services and other areas should be repealed,” the group said.

“Limited exemptions may be permitted for the training and appointment of ministers of religion or priests and other activities with a close nexus to religious observance, practice, teaching or worship.

“The exemptions should not allow discrimination in publicly funded delivery of goods and services, and particularly those services targeting vulnerable population groups.”

The review, headed by former Attorney-General Philip Ruddock, was called after last year’s marriage postal survey to consider some of the concerns raised by religious groups.

Several faith-based groups, including Christian Schools Australia, have told the review that current religious exemptions don’t go far enough, but the National Council of Churches in Australia wrote in its submission the right to religious freedom was “in reasonable shape” in Australia.

In November, a Baptist school in Western Australia sacked a relief teacher who revealed his sexuality in a Facebook post.

In their submissions, both The Equality Campaign and the Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC) called for the introduction of a Human Rights Act and recommended that religious belief be recognised as a “protected attribute” under federal anti-discrimination laws.

“We need to modernise and consolidate our patchwork of federal anti-discrimination laws into a watertight shield against mistreatment, and protect all fundamental rights through a Bill of Rights or Human Rights Act,” HRLC Legal Advocacy Director Anna Brown (pictured, right) said.

“Our laws should apply equally, regardless of what your faith is, where you’re from or who you love.”

LGBTI group just.equal also told the review that anti-discrimination exemptions allowing LGBTI people to be sacked or refused service by religious schools, hospitals and welfare agencies should be repealed.

“In the US, ‘religious freedom’ is being used as camouflage to weaken discrimination protections against LGBTI people, and many Australians do not want to see that culture war imported here,” spokesperson Rodney Croome said.

The group submitted 5,428 petition signatures opposing discrimination in the name of religious freedom as part of its submission to the review.

In its submission, the HRLC also called on the federal government to prohibit so-called “gay conversion” or “gay reparative” therapies, which attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity and cause significant harm to their physical or mental health.

The religious freedom review will report its findings by March 31.